By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
First things first, the term “Net Neutrality” is a real thing with real life implications for our community. If you use the internet, then you need to pay attention to this issue. For the last couple of years, the American public has enjoyed an open internet and web-surfing atmosphere, free of special treatment, fees, or discrimination. However, the recent decision by the Trump administration to repeal Net Neutrality rules could change all that.
In 2015 under President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put a rule in place that declared “high-speed internet service” as a public utility. That view enabled close government regulation of a service that has now become as necessary as a phone, electricity, or water. Each day we are tasked with increased services that require us to interface with the internet, to include job searches, medical appointments, educational coursework, or basic access to news and information. And until now, we have turned on our computer or cell phone and expected to have fast internet connections and retrieval of the data we want. The rule ensured that companies connecting us to the internet had to treat all content the same.
Dismantling net neutrality could slow down the pace at which our searches on the internet are provided. Broadband providers could create the equivalency of a “toll” for using the internet that would create fast lanes/ internet speed for businesses or consumers willing to pay a higher premium. Basically, providers could prioritize what information consumers get during their internet searches. Equally, providers could cause slower lanes/internet speed or limit access to content all together. It is not an understatement to say that we should also be concerned about the free exchange of beliefs and speech. If an internet provider disagrees with my political positions, website content, or organizational values, they could make it difficult to access objectionable websites or internet traffic.
Further without regulation to level the playing field, similar to the manner in which cable providers sell you cable, internet and phone service bundled as a package, we could see access to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media services bundled and sold to consumers. In fact, it is already being done in other countries such as Spain and Portugal. Yet proponents of the repeal insist that this move clears the way for increased business investment, innovation, and lower fees for internet users. Additionally they will tell you that broadband companies have already agreed to the basic principles of net neutrality, so there is no need for the government to play big brother. Simply put we should trust AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and others to do the right thing. However, we simply don’t appreciate that only a small number of companies actually connect our homes and phones to the internet. They already border on being monopolies, with the ability to charge ever increasing prices, provide fewer services and basically control the access and content of what we see. The net effect is that this really does impact each of us.