A line in the sand has been drawn.
As the country at large focused on the tax reform debate, the Federal Communications Commission in December voted to strip away one of our key digital freedoms.
With the rollback of Obama-era net neutrality rules, the FCC repealed regulations meant to keep internet service providers – AT&T, Comcast, Mediacom, Verizon, etc. – from blocking or throttling website traffic. The internet, as a necessary and irreplaceable tool for work, education, communication and entertainment, could be altered as ISPs deem fit under the new rules – or lack thereof – should they stay in place.
It’s a frightening concept to many, that large corporations have the ability to enact anti-consumer rules at their leisure.
In a worst-case scenario, ISPs would use what have been called “fast lanes,” essentially setting up digital toll roads for content providers to pay for preferential treatment. If a company can’t pony up, too bad.
In this scenario, popular companies with money to spend would be preferred and able to get on the fast lanes, meaning their users wouldn’t notice slowdowns. But the internet isn’t just Netflix, Google and Facebook; it’s all the trillions upon trillions of interconnected bits of data that make up the vast technological structure. Think about community newspapers, blogs, small-business and school websites, among so many others. It’s unlikely those types of websites would be able to pay for fast lanes.
But why is that up to AT&T or Comcast to determine? Should a website be treated differently based on the economic status of its owner? The internet is one of the best platforms to practice free speech, and that could be severely ruptured under this scenario.
ISPs, conversely, have everything to gain. They can further pad their billion-dollar balance sheets by implementing such payment practices.
In a best-case scenario, the company could still benefit. Should an ISP decide to be the “good guy” and adhere to net neutrality sentiments, consumers presumably would reward them by agreeing to purchase their services.
But corporations should not be in charge of making these decisions. Because of its sheer depth and influence in individual lives, the internet belongs to everyone – not just those with deep pockets. It’s a resource, and one we just can’t live our modern-day lives without. It should be regulated as such.
Back to that line in the sand.
Though many – including this reporter – believe this issue should be bipartisan, it hasn’t panned out that way as tensions rise in Washington, D.C. Much like tax reform and other issues, the FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to do away with the net neutrality rules.
The freedoms of American people should not have to come down to party-line votes. It’s a sad state of affairs when power grabs and bureaucracy limit what our government is supposed to be all about in the first place.
In a recent poll from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation, more than 80 percent opposed the repeal of net neutrality rules.
Unfortunately, significant resistance efforts are being drawn along party lines, as well, though some signs of bipartisanship are shining through.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, is the primary sponsor of a resolution to call upon the Congressional Review Act in order to overrule the FCC’s net neutrality decision. At press time, 43 others senators had signed on as supporters, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri. Nearly all the co-sponsors are Democrats, besides Bernie Sanders, who’s technically an independent. However, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has said she’ll support the review act proposal that requires 51 votes to block the FCC decision.
It’s a real shame it has to come to this, given the government’s primary duty is to protect the rights of its citizens – not faceless corporations.
This issue is larger than self-declared identifications as Republican or Democrat. It affects all of us. As individuals, there’s little we can do but try our hardest to get our elected officials to act on our behalf – or vote politicians out who don’t.
If you believe the internet should be swatted away from the grip of corporations, visit BattleForTheNet.com to contact elected officials.
Do you want companies to determine how the internet is handled, or do you want that decision to be in the hands of the American people? Make your choice.
SBJ Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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