Opinion: Net Neutrality And What It Means To You

Written by Stanley Fritz

Nov. 10 marked the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s upset Election Day victory.

During the year, a coalition of regular people have banded together to fight off some of his worst policy ideas. This includes his and the Republican party’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, an archaic Muslim ban, and an attack on transgender people in the military.

While there has been an overwhelming amount of energy to fight these battles from people in all parts of our country, the Trump administration has slowly picked apart one of the most important pieces of our social fabric — the internet.

After years of protection from the Obama administration, net neutrality protections for the internet may finally be destroyed. If successful, we will have no one but the Trump administration to thank for an unequal web.

What is net neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) and governments should treat all data on the internet equally. They cannot and should not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, site, platform or application.

To put it simply, internet service providers and governments cannot charge more for a different level of service, or provide different service levels to people which would hinder access. Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable have been fighting for years to get rid of these protections. If successful, they would be able to drastically restructure the way regular people are charged for their internet.

Confused? It’s simple. Instead of charging a flat rate for all internet use, they could create different price brackets depending on your use. People that stream or spend a lot of time playing video games online would pay a different price than someone who spends most of their time arguing with people on Facebook. On its face, it seems reasonable, but it would create a huge gap in internet accessibility.

net neutrality
Jennifer Livaudais

Who does it impact?

Without net neutrality protections, internet service providers could slow down access to certain websites as a way to force them to pay for faster load times.

A plan like this would hurt startups and small businesses that don’t have the kind of capital it would take to pay for better service. New publications, apps, and online boutiques would see a significant decrease in traffic and a decline in profits.

Websites like Blavity, BuzzFeed, and even Facebook would have a hard time succeeding in this kind of climate, but they have reached a space where money can pull them out of most conundrums. The next tech genius or brilliant mind with a great publication idea may not be so lucky. However, as bad as small businesses and up-and-coming publications might struggle, poor and working-class people would feel it the most.

Despite the growing number of people with access to the web, poor people are still struggling to cut through the digital divide. Just 43.8 percent of households with less than a high school education are online, compared to 90.1 percent of those with a college degree, according to the Verge. For 33 percent of Americans, the cost of web access is still the No. 1 reason they’re not online.

For those Americans, any chance of getting online would be over and a market that has seen exponential growth would suddenly start to stagnate.

What could this mean?

On its face, removing Obama-era internet rules would be a major win for internet service providers. With the ability to segment how they charge for the internet, they could potentially double their earnings without having to improve the quality of their service.

If you own stock in Time Warner, Verizon or any other company that provides internet, the end of net neutrality is a major win for you. For everyone else, it goes against the original purpose of the worldwide web, puts a price on your ability to access the internet and could even handcuff the growth of your business.

Access to the internet has played a leading role of equalizer in our time. It provides access to unlimited amounts of information, provides a venue for new ideas, amplifies new voices, creates new businesses, and provides a space to decompress after a hard day of work. By 2018, everything we have loved about our access to the web may be gone, or in the best case scenario, extremely compromised.

What can we do?

The  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is run by Republicans appointed by Trump. That team will more than likely support anything Trump wants. Net neutrality protections do not seem to be something he is interested in. With that in mind, our best bet for defeating an attack on the internet is in Congress.

While we’re not likely to see Obama-era net neutrality rules survive, there have been signs that Democrats and Republicans can find a middle ground on policy. That might be our only hope.