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Americans deserve net neutrality

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Net neutrality: Up until a couple of weeks ago, the concept was nothing more than a blip on my radar, if that.

I hadn’t heard talk about the threat of repeal since the July 12 Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality, and after signing a petition, I gave little thought to the issue in the months that followed.

I, like many others across the country, have only ever known an internet that was free and open to the people without barriers to the attainment of information.

I’ve never worried about whether my internet service provider could or would limit my access through direct censorship, additional fees or broadband speeds. Nor have I ever worried about whether this tool — one which has been increasingly integrated into just about every sector of society — would or could be transformed into a luxury for the rich.

In a world rife with injustice and inequality, the internet has long been a democratizing force that has connected people throughout the world.

While issues with access and infrastructure still exist and there are countries where net neutrality isn’t an underlying principle of the web, one can surely recognize the extent to which the internet has transformed the world in which we live.

The internet is a bastion of free speech and expression where the power to determine what one reads and watches lays solely with consumers. As of yet, the United States government hasn’t made legislative decisions which would open the gateway to inhibition of this access.

Then Nov. 21 happened.

On that Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced his office’s plans to rescind key Obama-era internet regulations designed to ensure internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon can’t prioritize, block or control the flow of internet traffic. The FCC will vote on the matter on Thursday.

This is outrageous, albeit unsurprising considering the Trump administration’s insistence on rolling back the clock when it comes to social and environmental issues such as the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which has led to a renewed effort to pass legislation benefiting undocumented youth, and the reduction of the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if the greater tragedy of this moment is the initiative itself or the potential for wealthy corporations to have the legal freedom to engage in practices whose effects will be felt long before the American people know what hit them.

If my lack of awareness in regard to net neutrality is part of a greater national trend, then I fear people will essentially have the rug swept right out from under them before they have a chance to realize there is in fact a rug upon which they stand.

Net neutrality is essential, especially in an age where the man holding the highest political office in the country deems reports that are critical of his administration “fake news” and enacts policies in line with an exclusionary vision of “American greatness.” 

The concept itself isn’t new; as Danny Kimball, an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Goucher College, noted in a recent Washington Post article, net neutrality is based on the “long-standing principle that access to basic communications infrastructure should be open and nondiscriminatory — a historical tradition that goes back centuries and a policy decision that has shaped the internet since its inception.”

If we lose net neutrality, then chances are it won’t be reinstated at least not within our lifetimes.

Should internet service providers choose to use the repeal to their advantage by dividing the internet into fast and slow lanes, charging extra for faster streaming or instituting fees that crowd out smaller vendors, class dynamics will surely determine who feels the brunt of the burden.

If a person isn’t making a living wage, then how on earth can they be expected to pay for once-free services as though they are add-ons? If a family is already struggling to make ends meet and afford a cost of living that has outstripped the rise in real wages by miles, then would this not be yet another roadblock standing in the way of opportunity?

The number of employers who utilize online job advertisements and applications grows each day.

Command of the Microsoft Office Suite is considered a basic skill for many positions. School assignments increasingly rely on internet access. News is posted, not printed. And popular culture in this day and age owes much of the credit for its spread to the internet.

We need net neutrality. We deserve net neutrality. And we, the people, must fight like hell to save it.

Petition. Call congresswomen and congressmen. Visit offices. And, above all else, remind politicians whose interests they’re supposed to represent.

The internet is a cultural force which has birthed everything from memes to movements, and we as a people would be amiss to ignore the significance of this vote.