The Federal Communications Committee voted on Thursday to rollback Net Neutrality rules, and now educators, business owners and everyday internet users fear the open internet — and consumers’ ability to control what they view — will no longer exist.
They fear they might have to pay to use applications like Snapchat and Instagram. They fear their small businesses may have to pay more money just for people to view their content. Most of all, they fear the uncertainty of what the vote will mean.
“It’s going to be a shock to a lot of people that we’re going to start seeing our internet service providers dishing out plans for people to make payments,” senior Matthew Trecek said. “[What’s scary] is you don’t know what you’re going to come across. We’re not going to know until we encounter it. And until that day comes we’re going to have to live in fear for what the outcome might be.”
Net Neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) must provide citizens with open networks. A set of rules adopted in 2015 reclassified internet service providers as “common carriers,” meaning that they must provide consumers with equal access to all websites, regardless of content. The rules kept ISPs from throttling information and giving prioritization to companies who paid premiums.
America has never experienced a web without Net Neutrality regulations, according to Stanford Law Media and Strategy Fellow Ryan Singel, but after Thursday’s vote, it will.
Since his appointment as FCC commissioner by then-President Barack Obama in 2012, FCC chairman Ajit Pai has opposed the “common-carrier” classifications, and after his appointment to Chairman by President Trump, Pai has moved quickly to get rid of the classification.
“Many critics don’t seem to understand that we are moving from heavy-handed regulation to light-touch regulation, not a completely hands-off approach,” Pai said in a speech Nov. 28 that was later posted on the official FCC website. “We aren’t giving anybody a free pass.”
Pai’s plan is entitled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” but many fear that the new rules will do just the opposite. Though the implications of the vote are uncertain, Singel predicts the vote will affect everyday internet usage.
“[ISPs] could charge Instagram or Whatsapp or Snapchat a lot of money simply so Verizon users could use that service,” Singel said.
Pai, however, states that unfair data prioritization still won’t be legal. He explains ISPs will be required to be transparent about their practices, and his proposal would stop the federal government from micromanaging the internet. He argues that ISPs won’t have a “free pass,” but opponents state that the FCC won’t be able to control what ISPs do after the rule reversal.
Net Neutrality supporters, like art teacher and co-owner of Hand magazine Adam Finkelston and Singel, think trusting ISPs is a bad idea when it comes to transparency. They argue that giving power to ISPs will result in throttling, blocking and paid prioritization of web content – or faster service for those who give ISPs money. Paid prioritization could mean some sites, videos or social media pictures take longer to load.
According to a November poll from Morning Consult/Politico, 52 percent of Americans support Net Neutrality, while 18 percent oppose it. 29 percent didn’t know or had no opinion. People from across the political spectrum are opposed to Pai’s plan: the survey also found that Net Neutrality rules are supported by 55 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans.
Individuals, the media and companies have spoken out against the proposal after its announcement in November. Websites such as battleforthenet.com have emerged to make it easier to find protests, call senators and learn about the issue. At least 850,000 people have called Congress to voice their opinions, according to battleforthenet.com.
East students have taken action, too. Responses from a Harbinger poll of 374 students revealed that students have called congressmen, shared informational posts on social media, commented on the FCC website, educated friends and more. Of the East students who said they understood what Net Neutrality is, 79.1 percent opposed Pai’s proposal, and 17 percent were undecided or neutral. Only 3.9 percent favored the proposal.
“There really is a huge implication that this will have on the way we get our news and the way we communicate with our friends online,” senior Matthew Trecek said. “That could not only have an effect on the way people get their news, but the way people think down the line.
According to principal John McKinney, the Act will affect educational institutions that rely heavily on technology, like SMSD.
Since SMSD students got MacBooks in 2014, they have had to use the internet for Google Classroom, YouTube, Moodle, Kahoot, Skyward and more. Students — and all consumers for that matter — have used the internet with Net Neutrality rules in place.
“It will have an effect on students in the same way it’ll have an effect on the nation,” McKinney said. “Because of the internet, we’re able to see and experience in a way that we might not be able to without technology, and frankly without unlimited access to the internet. To try to put barriers on that or to try and monetize the internet will have an unfortunate effect on public schools and public government agencies.”
Small business owners like Finkelston support Net Neutrality because it keeps them from having to pay extra for websites that will add to the cost of their doing business. Finkelston sees other problems with the rollback of Net Neutrality rules.
“The internet has changed from something that is a commercial commodity that businesses use to sell things into a really important source of information,” Finkelston said. “The Restore Internet Freedom Act would pave the way for communications companies to be able to throttle the amount of data that customers are able to stream through their devices, which means that they would be limited with the amount of information they could get.”
In the short term, Thursday’s vote could be reversed by bipartisan legislation, a lawsuit or an administrative challenge. Congress rarely overrides FCC decisions, according to Singel, but there is still a chance Congress will overrule the FCC’s repeal. If the FCC vote is not repealed, the new rules will be added to the federal register in the next 30-90 days, where they will officially become law.
If the decision goes into law, Singel worries that up-and-coming businesses won’t have the means to pay ISPs extra money to reach users, or to reach users fast.
“We live and breathe on the internet, and we love when new things come up,” Singel said. “We’ve had 20 years where it’s been easy for people to start new things on the internet and 20 years where we could use whatever we wanted without worrying about whether [ISPs were] going to block it. That’s the world we’ve lived in, and that’s the world we want to keep.”
Although the implications are uncertain, the effects will be felt by everyone, including East students.
“I would hate to think that our teacher’s ability to teach and our students ability to learn could be reduced to if you can’t afford it, you can’t learn it, or you can’t teach it,” McKinney said. “And I hope it doesn’t come to that.”