A board of five un-elected individuals will soon likely vote on an issue that looms much larger than the Iron Bowl, and, dare we say it, the National Championship.
They are the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission, a government agency tasked with regulating interstate communications by radio, wire, television, satellite and cable.
These five will decide the fate of net neutrality, one of the last strong bulwarks American citizens have against the ever-growing sphere of corporate influence.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon cannot charge users different prices for using different types of data on the internet. For instance, Comcast cannot charge a higher price for users scrolling through Twitter than it would for users browsing news from NBC, a company Comcast owns.
Without net neutrality, ISPs could slow down, block and charge money for specific online content.
This has far reaching consequences, some of which are salient toward students and educators. Students need open access to online resources for research, and teachers need it to optimize their teaching. Academia relies on access to open information, and anything that stands in the way of it is an obstacle to our nation’s education. Moreover, open access to the internet must be protected for those who don’t have any other resources in the communities to further their education. In this way, net neutrality protects the American Dream.
An open internet is a cornerstone of a successful modern democracy. It is powerful tool for political organization, as evidenced by the Arab Spring, numerous elections and the groundswell of interest in grassroots organizing — including the campaign to preserve net neutrality.
With it, people have freed themselves from despots and political ignorance. Placing more economic barriers on internet data undermines our country’s ideal of the free exchange of ideas; it amounts to censorship.
Deceptively, FCC chairman Ajit Pai tried to assure us in a recent statement that removing net neutrality would be a righteous attack on an imposing government, “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet.”
This red herring, that government is the greatest threat to Americans’ liberty, has been a reliable trick for several decades. Too often, it’s used to justify the degradation of society for the benefit of the rich.
Invariably, it conjures up scenes of the very real tyrannies inflicted by governments throughout history: government sponsored syphilis experiments, failed government economic organization that resulted in the death of millions and so on.
It’s a mistake, however, to let these travesties define our stance on every issue relating to the roles played by the governmental and economic spheres.
Despite the murmurs of cynics, citizens have greater control over government than we do over private corporations; we can vote the levers of government in and out of office. There is no such mechanism for citizens to influence corporate behavior; it’s structurally unaccountable.
Some argue corporations can be held accountable because citizens won’t allow them to misbehave. Ostensibly, if they misbehave, citizens will take their money elsewhere. However, this mechanism only really manifests in the long run, if ever. Corporations could, perhaps, be held accountable in the long run, but what does that do for the people who live their lives before that long-run result happens, if it does at all?
Proponents argue the removal of net neutrality would free up markets, and as a corollary, will promote market competition.
But it wouldn’t increase competition; it would throttle it. Large companies, like Facebook, Netflix and Google would gain a competitive edge over smaller companies.
Higher earning companies would be able to comfortably pay the higher costs required to maintain high speed internet access to their online services. Newer and smaller companies, on the other hand, would see diminished access to the market and might be pushed out.
Small companies are likely to be excluded from package deals offered by ISPs, further hindering competition in markets already dominated by larger companies.
Let us be clear: removing net neutrality isn’t an attempt to free people from government. It is an attempt to place people under the rough and unaccountable tyranny of large, oligopolistic corporations.
Giving corporations the power to control what is accessed on the internet would be disastrous for our country’s economic well-being. Moreover, it would be an affront to our democracy.
In our times, there are two great equalizers: death and net neutrality. The former is inevitable, but the latter is not. It’s on us to protect it.
We encourage you to call your representatives. We have to raise our voices, as college students and concerned Americans, and let Congress know it needs to protect net neutrality — and we need to boot out politicians who aren’t brave or wise enough to do so.
You can find your representatives and senators using this tool.