FCC’s plan to repeal net neutrality threatens freedom of students and teachers
On Thursday, December 14, the FCC will vote to repeal net neutrality. As a concerned student and member of the activist group Keep Our Net Free, I believe this repeal is a threat to every single American and must be stopped at all costs.
To get a sense of net neutrality’s importance, consider this hypothetical scenario. Suppose you’re curled up on the sofa watching Stranger Things on Netflix. The drama keeps building. Right at the most tense moment, the show starts to buffer. The loading screen shows, and you wait for several minutes for the episode to continue playing, but nothing happens.
Eventually, the loading screen is replaced by a message from Comcast, who you already pay exorbitant amounts of money to for providing Xfinity internet service, asking you to pay an extra fee to continue watching.
Without net neutrality, this hypothetical scenario may become our new reality. The policy, which has been codified by the FCC since 2015, prevents Comcast and other internet service providers (ISPs) such as Verizon, who provides FiOS internet, from blocking or slowing down sites arbitrarily. A repeal would therefore greatly decrease consumers’ freedom to access websites without ISP interference.
Furthermore, as senior Thomas Levine describes, ISPs can use this newfound power to “separate social network access such as Facebook and Twitter, texting, and phone calling into packages that can greatly increase the price of internet access.”
According to technology director Lee McCanne, the school pays about $7,000 per year for two business-tier plans from Verizon and Comcast for redundancy. Therefore, a repeal could have massive ramifications for our school.
For example, it could be much more difficult to do research on the internet for classes. Librarian Alida Hanson thinks that students’ high degree of access to internet sources will be heavily limited by the repeal.
“It’s going to be a completely different landscape we’re dealing with,” Hanson said. “Up to this point, we’ve really benefited from liberal internet policies, as we block very few sources of information, to our students’ benefit. I think that’s definitely going to change, and we’re not going to have the power anymore to do anything about it; ISPs will.”
History department head Kerry Dunne echoed Hanson’s concern. She added that a repeal would deepen the “digital divide,” where those who can afford to pay higher prices for internet access will have a major advantage over those who cannot.
“I worry about what students will have access to at home,” Dunne said. “I think [the repeal] could potentially set up a situation that broadens the ‘digital divide.’ People who can afford to pay have the internet equivalent of a high-end digital smartphone, and those who can’t have the internet equivalent of a 1999 flip phone. This really affects students’ ability to do research, write, and access curriculum materials at home.”
Math teacher Alison Langsdorf, who teaches AP Computer Science and various Geometry classes, said that the repeal could have significant effects on math courses.
“In math classes, we occasionally use videos from Numberphile and other sources like that. For tech-space sites, such as Stack Overflow which is frequently used in AP Computer Science, a slow connection isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. You can start to load a site, make a cup of tea, and come back when it’s loaded, just like in the old days. But for video content, it’s potentially a showstopper,” Langsdorf said.
In a similar vein, sophomore Eric Sakkas said that with Google planning to enter the ISP market, other ISPs may have an incentive to slow down or block Google websites. In particular, Verizon, who owns the competing search engine Yahoo, may proceed along this course.
“I could see a future where Google-owned websites are either inaccessible or too slow when using a specific internet provider,” said Sakkas. “This could lead to some students having more information available for research purposes than others, strictly due to their internet provider.”
Both Dunne and McCanne suggested that prices will rise for internet access, which would reduce the school’s budget for investing in other forms of technology.
“We have a finite school budget for these kinds of things. If we have to pay more for internet access, we would have less money to spend on access to online resources and more updated equipment. It would be a shame to have that taken away,” Dunne said.
Although McCanne thinks that price hikes by ISPs are inevitable, he hopes that this monetization process will be slow and gradual.
“I think it would be hugely unpopular for ISPs to jump their prices; it would lead to a lot of bad press. It’s more likely that businesses would adopt a more long-term plan to profit from the repeal by starting to sneak extra charges in billing,” McCanne said.
While Langsdorf and McCanne suggest that the school ought to monitor how ISPs adjust to the changing regulatory landscape, Dunne added that these issues should be discussed in social studies classes.
“We can begin by discussing it in social studies classes,” she said. “I’d love to see some student activism around this. I think that students have more clout than they think. Even if five students got together and spent an hour calling their senator, their representatives, or even write a letter to the FCC, that could have a major impact.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Dunne and think she makes an excellent point. The FCC’s plan to destroy net neutrality must be stopped at all costs, and we still have the power to do something about it. Join me in the fight for net neutrality by raising awareness about the issue on social media. Battle for the Net (www.battleforthenet.com) has some great resources for doing so.