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Hey pals, it’s time to have a little chat about net neutrality and why it’s important to you, intrepid science-loving critical thinker that you are.
Net neutrality is the idea that an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like Comcast or AT&T shouldn’t favor or discriminate against any content based on its source. In other words, Comcast shouldn’t have the ability to say to you, “Pay us an extra $10 a month or else you’re going to get buffering pauses every few minutes when you try to watch Netflix.”
Net neutrality isn’t something that is currently protected in any meaningful sense, and the current Republican US government is working hard to actually do the opposite and protect the ISPs, allowing them to discriminate all they want. And that doesn’t just mean that it would suddenly be slow for you to access a website — your ISP could block you from accessing a certain website entirely. Like, for instance, a website that is critical of that ISP.
You might think that’s not so bad, because you could always just get another ISP, right? Well unfortunately, ISPs in the US run a semi-legal monopoly. Last year, the FCC released a report showing that 30% of people don’t have any access to any ISP offering the standard 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download/3Mbps upload speed for broadband and nearly half the country only has access to one. In other words, most people have no choice when it comes to broadband.
The ISPs even basically admitted to running monopolies, like in 2015 when Time Warner attempted to merge with Comcast. When fears were raised about a monopoly, the companies pointed out that they specifically do not compete in the same markets right now, so merging wouldn’t be a problem.
So with consumers not actually having a choice, that makes it even more important for our ISPs to be held accountable with a solid net neutrality law. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers, as usual, care more about the industry lobbyists lining their pockets than the voters who would be affected by their policies, so the FCC has proposed to throw net neutrality in the garbage under a proposal called “Restoring Internet Freedom.” I shit you not. To break that down, they’d be “restoring freedom” to large corporations to discriminate against certain websites and charge you more money for wanting to access them, or just not letting you see them at all.
ISPs are doing all they can to convince the general public that this is a good idea, or to just stop them from seeing any criticism, like when Comcast recently threatened to sue a pro-net neutrality website. THAT certainly doesn’t bode well for how they’ll handle internet traffic to websites they don’t like in the future.
And that’s why specifically you should care about this. Trashing net neutrality gives control of information over to large corporations, which is anathema to good skepticism. The public needs the freedom to be critical.
If you’d like to let the FCC know how you feel (and you should!), TechCrunch has a step-by-step guide on how to comment on their terrible proposal. I know it’s overwhelming because of how many things the US government is fucking up all at once, but this is important and it’s worth the five minutes of your time. Help fight for healthy, open discourse by fighting in favor of net neutrality.