Limiting access could mean limiting life

Published 4:07 pm Monday, December 18, 2017


Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the net neutrality rules set in place in 2015. The repeal does not go into immediate effect; it will take action on the part of the U.S. Congress to make the decision by the FCC board into law.

There is time, and there may be a few lawsuits filed between now and then.

Many people don’t really know what net neutrality is, or how it may affect them. That’s understandable, as most don’t really know much about the internet other than it works — through a computer, a smartphone — and that all the content in the world is available at the touch of a finger.

To understand more about the repeal of net neutrality, it serves to look at who is glad the FCC board voted to repeal. Internet service providers are celebrating. Owners of such popular internet sites as Facebook, Amazon and Netflix are not. According to polls, 83 percent of Internet users are not celebrating, either.

So, why is that? First, the purpose of net neutrality is, indeed, neutrality. Every website out there, no matter how big or how small, whether it’s owned by a small business or corporate giant, is given a neutral playing field: the speed of and ability to access those websites is universal. Service providers currently have no say in what content a user can access, as long as it’s legal. But take away the law, and what’s left is the ability of service providers to treat some websites preferentially by making website owners pay for the privilege of people being able to access those sites — good for large, established corporations; not so good for start-up businesses; the innovators.

On the surface, that might not seem so bad; after all, it’s business; it’s competition. But the repeal of net neutrality also could impact the consumer, the person sitting at home surfing the internet.

How would that happen? It could happen a variety of ways. An example would be service providers offering packages, much like cable did, way back when. They provide a basic service, but in order to access any social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. a “social media” package will have to be added on to the basic cost. While Facebook itself is free, the internet service provider could charge a premium rate to let you access it. Netflix series are in high demand, but a Netflix binge-watcher could have to, again, pay a premium price to have video stream at a rate that’s worth watching. And a company like Verizon could, if it chose to do so, slow down access to Google, instead funneling that traffic to its own search engine, Yahoo. As a concession, the end user could pay for yet another package that would allow them to use Google at current speeds, rather than deal with the excessive amount of time it then takes to Google something. Think about all those people who have Gmail accounts now having to pay a premium simply to access their own email.

Today, being able to access the internet is vital for so many reasons — it’s not just for entertainment and catching up with people on Facebook. It’s vital to business and job searches; vital to the medical field (think internet access to MyChart); it’s vital to getting driving directions; knowing when packages will arrive on the doorstep; applying to colleges; taking online classes — its uses are limitless and intricately entwined with daily life in the 21st century.

Limiting access could mean limiting life for many people who are unable to pay to play.

Learn more about net neutrality. It might be a good time to Google it — that is, while you still can.