Prevent Discrimination: Protect Our Net Neutrality!

By Julia Fujisaka

Most days, and throughout most of the day, many of us as students rely upon the Internet. We use it to do homework, read the news, shop, connect with friends and family, watch movies, and so many other things. This is possible right now because we have a free and Open Internet, also called Net Neutrality. However, the option to pick and choose what we view may not be available very much longer. In December 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a set of rules requiring transparency from, and preventing blocking or discrimination by, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in order to preserve a free and Open Internet. However, in January of this year, the FCC’s rules were challenged in the US Court of Appeals, preserving the requirement for transparency, but overturning the regulations preventing blocking and discrimination. While the court did say the FCC could re-establish better and stronger rules, the FCC has indicated that it may instead allow ISPs to charge websites and other content providers so that they can provide “faster” or “better” service to their customers. What these changes translate to is this: big companies such as Netflix or Facebook can afford to pay the fees to provide services to their customers, while small companies and individuals may be left out in the cold. This can also lead to preferential treatment on the part of the ISP. Imagine getting online to order a pizza, but instead of connecting with your preferred local pizzeria, you are rerouted to Pizza Hut or Domino’s because they paid a fee to your ISP for increased access to customers. More disturbing than the changes in accessibility, however, is the possibility for censorship. Because the content providers must pay a fee to grant Internet users access to them, an ISP can decide who gets to reach the consumer and who doesn’t. For example, a user can be guaranteed quick, easy access to the website of a famous actor or musician, but be completely unable to read the blog of someone in their own community. Even more frightening, though, is the potential for silencing a dissenting opinion. If we lose Net Neutrality, those of us questioning the lack of an Open Internet, or anything else, may lose their voice. Do we really want to relinquish our First Amendment rights? We rely upon the Internet for the free exchange of ideas and information, and often the Internet can be the only way a group or individual can get their message out to the world. Not only does an Open Internet give a voice to the voiceless, but it can often be the only way in which uncensored news reaches the public at home and abroad. Think of the events that took place during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Without social media providing a platform for Egyptian citizens to share their experiences, it is doubtful we would’ve heard an uncensored account of the events taking place in their country. We cannot rely strictly upon the potentially censored and frequently biased mass media outlets for our information, and if we lose Net Neutrality, that may be what we’re stuck with. For more information on net neutrality, and to let your voice be heard, please check out these websites: http://www.aclu.org/net-neutrality http://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality http://www.fcc.gov/openinternet

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