By CASEY STANFORD, ANNIKA SIAL AND BITA BEHPOOR
The Sword and Shield Opinion Staff unanimously agrees that net neutrality is a fundamental right in the modern era and its repeal displays the growing rift between politicians and their constituents. While the repeal may not have any immediately apparent effects, it allows telecommunications corporations to create rules and policies that restrict the modern concept of a free Internet and cost consumers more money with very little benefit for any party other than the corporations.
Net neutrality rules were first approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015, and received a flood of online support.
They ruled that all Internet service providers have to give equal treatment to all data and websites on the Internet, allowing free, open access to the Internet by anyone and everyone. Now, the FCC has voted to repeal net neutrality, allegedly to better protect Americans and help Internet consumers.
The issues inherent in repealing net neutrality are clear. Internet providers are only regulated by the rules that they must disclose their presence online, cannot block certain websites from Internet users, and cannot require us to pay to view certain websites. Significant changes to Internet service will probably not come immediately, but will become more noticeable as time goes on.
For example, different Internet service providers and media companies could create faster lanes of delivery to their own sites, and make it more difficult for consumers to see content from their rivals. Prices for Internet service are predicted to increase as more online information and programs require payment from consumers. This ability to block information and exploit the use of the Internet as another form of profit has the potential to control what we see and what we do. In the near future, as Internet service providers continue to block certain content and increase their self promotion, the public will inevitably grow ignorant of what decisions are being made for them. If any type of content can be blocked or Internet traffic speed is decreased by a large margin, then there is the possibility of people losing the ability to make choices about the content they seek and the content they see.
The loss of this seemingly absolute, uniform privilege will deter people from forming original beliefs and opinions. If content on the Internet is controlled by an external influence, the information you see can be manipulated to mold your beliefs. This dictatorial corporate control of the public’s internet usage is a violation of our First Amendment rights.
Another problem, more signified by the repeal than caused by it, is the recent trend in politics of power being consolidated in the hands of corporations and slipping away from the people. This trend, perhaps most notably visible in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, is also clearly visible in how the FCC has ignored widespread opposition to the repeal.
Net neutrality has received unprecedented bipartisan support amongst regular citizens; 99% of unique comments to the FCC in advance of the net neutrality ruling were in favor of net neutrality. Yet even this couldn’t combat the $101 billion Congress received in contributions from the telecommunications industry preceding the net neutrality vote. The repeal of net neutrality overwhelmingly benefits Internet Service Providers by allowing them to raise premiums, charge for specific parts of the media, and monopolize Internet-based services. What legislators like to call “campaign donations” or “contributions” are really just legalized bribes. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010 established that political donations are protected as free speech, even when those donations are backed by corporations. This essentially provides an excuse for our representatives to disregard constituents’ opinions in favor of corporations, in order to gain thousands of dollars in profit.
Ultimately, we citizens who can’t afford to buy the votes of our legislators are losing our voices in government. The repeal of net neutrality is the most serious of many decisions made against the interests of the people, the people whom our legislators are supposed to represent.
California 45th district representative Mimi Walters did not respond to Sword and Shield staff’s request for comment about the decision. Telecommunications companies contributed $160,000 to representative Walters, who voted to repeal net neutrality on December 14th.