Imagine a world in which corporations control your access to information on the Internet. Net neutrality affects everyone, yet the majority have no clue what is or why they should care. There are plenty of corporations that want to keep it that way.
Net neutrality is the idea that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. Basically a YouTube video should receive the same treatment by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) as a movie from Netflix or a commercial from Verizon. Net neutrality guarantees access to content will not be manipulated whether it comes from a non-profit or a major corporation.
In January, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of ISPs, basically revoking net neutrality. In 2010, the FCC had classified broadband as an information service, leaving it up to legal interpretation, and established “Open Internet Rules,” which were: 1) ISPs need to be transparent about how they manage network congestion, 2) they can’t block traffic on wired networks, no matter what the source, and 3) they can’t put competing services into an “internet slow lane” to benefit their own offerings. The court’s ruling removed the last two rules, and the first rule is vague enough that ISPs can avoid it altogether.
Freed from any legal restraints, ISPs can monitor everything you do and say online, then sell the information to the highest bidder. ISPs have direct control over your connection to the Internet and the devices you use to connect to it. Internet users already face a minefield when it comes to online privacy. Social networks constantly change their confusing privacy controls, and “free” websites and email providers routinely harvest and sell our personal information to advertisers. The old rules were created to protect Internet users. The January 2014 decision has unraveled these protections.
Net neutrality allowed minorities to tell their own stories and to organize for racial and social justice in the digital age. The open Internet gave marginalized voices an opportunity to be heard. But without net neutrality, ISPs can block unpopular speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without net neutrality, minorities will lose a vital platform to shape debates on issues that impact their communities’ well-being.
ISPs have proven that they will censor, block, and manipulate information on the Internet if allowed to do so. In 2005, Telus was involved in a bitter labor dispute, and the telecom blocked its Internet subscribers from accessing a website run by the union that was on strike against them.
In late 2007, Verizon Wireless cut off access to a text-messaging program by the pro-choice rights group NARAL that the group used to send messages to its supporters. Also in 2007, Comcast, the second largest ISP, intentionally slowed down its customers’ Internet connections. The FCC took legal action against Comcast for abusing their customers rights.
During a performance by the rock group Pearl Jam in Chicago, AT&T censored words from lead singer Eddie Vedder’s performance. The ISP, which was responsible for streaming the concert, shut off the sound when Vedder voiced his opinion on the current president.
Altering online information has serious implications for education and educators. Dennis Sever, vice president of information technology and facilities at Midland College, maintains the college’s network and computer systems. He said MC is a part of the Lonestar Education and Research Network and would not be affected by net neutrality. LEARN is a large computer network covering more than 3,200 miles of Texas.
Mike Phillips, executive director of LEARN, said it was a “digital ecosystem” designed to support research, education and innovation. LEARN is partnered with Google, Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, and others. The infrastructure and its partners is what allows LEARN to maintain net neutrality on their network.
Both Sever and Phillips agreed that the private consumer would be affected by the reversal of net neutrality. Plenty of organizations and groups are petitioning the FCC to re-define broadband.