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The future of net neutrality is at stake and with it, the internet as we know it

 

Story and graphic by Alejandro Ramos News Editor

The future of the internet as we know it is hanging in the balance.

On Nov. 21, FCC chairman Ajit Pai released a statement declaring that the FCC would be voting on whether or not to repeal net neutrality regulations.

“Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades,” said Pai. “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet.”

This isn’t the first time Pai has gone after net neutrality. He’s tried to repeal the Obama-era regulations several times this year, but relented after fierce backlash from the public. This is just his latest attempt to remove what he’s called “heavy-handed internet regulations.”

Net neutrality will be a thing of the past unless the public rises up and expresses its concern like it has before.

But it won’t be so easy for him to accomplish his goal if the citizens of the internet have anything to say about it. While net neutrality isn’t exactly the stuff of network news, you can definitely expect it to fill up your timelines. So, here’s a breakdown of the important facts you need to know about net neutrality, why it matters, and how you can get involved in the debate.

Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, speaking at a meeting.
Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, has quickly become the face of the movement to end net neutrality regulations (Lance Cheun/USDA).

Net Neutrality, Explained

Net neutrality, in simple terms, is the idea that the internet should remain an open and level playing field for all. Under net neutrality, all traffic, no matter what website it’s from, cannot be controlled or slowed down by internet service providers (ISPs).

It’s a fairly benevolent concept in theory. Why, then, is it the cause of so much trouble?

The current debate goes back to 2015, when the FCC voted to classify the internet as a public utility under President Obama, putting the internet at the same level of utilities such as water, electricity and gas.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2017, when newly inducted President Trump appointed Ajit Pai as the new chairman of the FCC. Ever since his appointment, Pai has only had one goal in mind: removing net neutrality. A former Verizon lawyer, Pai’s argument is that net neutrality has hindered the expansion and innovation of the internet.

Now, the battle over net neutrality is rearing its ugly head once more. Ultimately, it boils down to the wants of the people versus those of the corporations.

Life without Net Neutrality

The reality of the debate over net neutrality is that it’s based on a lot of hearsay. Ajit Pai has regularly reduced arguments against the repeal to “theoretical” and “hypothetical” in interviews. Indeed, there isn’t concrete evidence of what would happen if net neutrality regulations were removed in the United States.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t examples of the internet without net neutrality in other countries. Take Portugal, for example. Net neutrality advocates often point to the European country as an example of what could happen if the regulations were removed.

“In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages,” said Ro Khanna, California Congressional representative, in a tweet.

The tweet is accompanied by a screenshot of the plans provided by Portuguese mobile service Meo. It shows websites and apps split up into different plans, each one costing about six U.S. dollars. There’s a plan for social media. There’s a plan for messaging apps. There’s a plan for video and a plan for music. It’s reminiscent of cable subscription packages of old, where there was a base package that could have sports, kids, and other type of channels added on.

The other fear, which is much more hypothetical, is that ISPs would fundamentally alter the nature of the internet by creating a fast and slow lane. ISPs, advocates say, would charge companies to use the fast lane and leave everyone else to share the slow lane.

While there isn’t any past evidence of this, the possibility of it coming to fruition is enough to drive the campaign for net neutrality. This argument is undoubtedly the simplest explanation of what could be possible without it. Internet celebrities such as Markiplier, Anthony Fantano and Phillip DeFranco have used this point to explain the dangers of removing net neutrality in videos on their Youtube channels.

What Can Be Done?

There are a couple of things you can do if this catches your attention and you want to get involved. First, stay informed about the developments on the matter. Tech sites like Wired and The Verge are great for keeping up with news on net neutrality as it comes in. Other sites, like battleforthenet.com, can point you in the right direction if you want to get involved more directly.

Speaking of which, contact your local representative to see where they stand on the issue. It’s important to hold your local elected officials accountable. Make sure they’re actually working on the issues that matter to you. If this is one of them, let them know so they can get on it.

Lastly, make sure you’re talking about net neutrality with your friends and family. It sounds like a corny thing to do, but it’s necessary. Net neutrality has long been buried underneath other topics. It’s one of the reasons it seems to pop up with little to no notice intermittently.

One thing is for certain, though. Net neutrality will be a thing of the past unless the public rises up and expresses its concern like it has before.