Image by Gerd Altmann
If there is one thing we can all agree on in this age of divisive politics, it’s that net neutrality is important for a thriving democracy. Despite the blatant politicization of the issue, this is not a political issue. Both Democrats and Republicans leaders alike in the United States have attempted to censor the internet. This is a human rights issue.
What is net neutrality? According to PublicKnowledge.org, it is:
the principle that individuals should be free to access all content and applications equally, regardless of the source, without Internet Service Providers discriminating against specific online services or websites. In other words, it is the principle that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet.
Despite his many controversies and allegations, we have Bill Clinton to thank for the internet not being regulated. Back in the ’90s, ex-President Clinton claimed that a free and open internet was vital for a thriving economy. This hasn’t stopped people left, right, and center from attempting to undo Clinton’s basic principles for the internet. Whether it’s the “think about the children” types on the Right who have been attempting to censor the internet to protect children, or the “think about the women and minorities” types on the Left who have been attempting to censor the internet to protect women and minorites—people have been wishing to control what we view online for over two decades.
In 2012, United States Congress attempted to pass two laws: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which were back by most major media companies, and claimed to be an attempt to cut down on the streaming and downloading of TV shows, movies and the like. However, these proposed laws also came with the frightening ability to shut down websites the Government believed were “abusing copyrights”. Multiple protests and criticism ensued on social media and in the real world, and sites like Wikipedia and Google protested the laws by blacking out their websites.
However, attempts to legislate net neutrality are even more dangerous, enough that both Left and Right can agree that it is incredibly harmful and outright dangerous. This time it’s the Republicans instead of the Democrats who are attempting to control how we view our internet, but don’t get out your pitchforks and your pussy hats yet. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai wants to end net neutrality:
[He] announced on Tuesday a plan to put an end to what he called the federal government’s “micromanaging” of the internet.
Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet…Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate
While it is reasonable to curtail the Government’s stranglehold on the internet, it is not reasonable to do this by placing control in internet service providers, who are less likely to remain accountable. What Pai fails to mention is that the alternative is not actually better. Service providers being allowed to create so-called “fast and slow lanes for subscribers” is a massive worry. Instead of deciding personally what sites you want to visit, your internet service providers will be the ones to choose for you. Want to visit Twitter or YouTube to check out your favorite political personalities? Well, you’re not on a good enough plan for YouTube, but you probably check out a few tweets with dial-up speeds. Basically, the internet will work like the latest EA Games blockbuster.
It’s great that powerful sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter are pro-net neutrality, but it would be nice if they applied their beliefs evenly. These conglomerates are vehemently anti-censorship when it affects their top dollar, but reverse it—like with Google’s recent censorship of anyone on YouTube and Twitter’s censorship of conservative voices—then they will kick up a fuss. You can’t be pro-censorship when you’re the one doing the censoring, and then anti-censorship when it’s not you. You can’t have it both ways. That’s hypocrisy.
While it may be the Republicans today trying to pass net neutrality laws, it was Barack Obama’s Democrats a few years back, and both sides will flip-flop around being pro-net neutrality and anti-net neutrality. Barack Obama himself, while supporting SOPA and PIPA in 2012, helped create the current net neutrality laws in 2015. This time, however, it is the Republicans, and we must stop their attempts to regulate the free internet regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum.
In a world where so many are already trying to censor what we write and say, it is important to stand up against those like Ajit Pai who believe we have to pay to play (or view). This law only benefits the internet service providers and other big businesses who will make money off the suffering of others.
The internet exists as a place where we—in theory—have the ability to freely spread ideas, regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum. Yet another attempt to destroy this is purely pathetic. It would be nice if companies like Google, Twitter and Wikipedia were less hypocritical with their disapproval of the proposed changes to net neutrality. You can’t pick and choose censorship. For once, we must ignore our differences and fight back. The future of the internet relies on us.