Students torn over controversial net neutrality repeal
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High school teacher Sue Nellis kicked off her AP U.S. History class Dec. 14 by returning and then discussing the most recent test.
Junior Blake Lincoln was chosen to read his short answer aloud as an example. But before he started, he nonchalantly threw in another key piece of information – one pertaining not to past events but to modern history in the making.
“By the way, net neutrality just got repealed,” he told the class.
“Just thought you should know.”
And then the period went on.
Despite the brevity of the moment, the potential loss of net neutrality and its consequences was a threat that had been weighing on some students for weeks.
Net neutrality, referred to by many as the “open internet,” is a principle requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all online content equally and not give preference to select digital content providers.
In other words, net neutrality prevents ISPs from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any websites or applications that the public uses.
It’s the way that everyone expects the internet to be: free, unbiased and autonomous.
However, by lessening government regulation of the internet, which in turn gives internet providers the power to potentially impose any of the aforementioned measures, the Dec. 14 repeal decision made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) takes away what some users view as given rights.
Senior Amalie Fackenthal is one of those users.
“From what I’ve read about net neutrality, its repeal would only be a moneymaker for large corporations such as Verizon or T-Mobile and would allow them to (have) almost complete control over the websites that their customers use,” Fackenthal said.
Senior Carlos Nuñez is also concerned by the repeal.
“It (means) that ISPs can charge extra for different websites and services, like how cable companies charge you,” he said.
He also pointed out that while big companies have a massive advantage since they can pay off ISPs to get their sites to run at faster speeds, smaller companies don’t have the money to do so.
“It really goes against the whole ‘freedom of the internet’ (idea) that has become integral to what (the internet) is,” Nuñez said.
“Basically, there’s nothing good for the consumer that can come (from) ending net neutrality.”
Despite the FCC’s repeal, there are still a few ways that net neutrality can be saved.
Congress could pass a law taking the power to end net neutrality away from the FCC.
In addition, there’s the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which can overrule the decision using joint resolution. In this case, legislators of either party could petition to reverse agency rulings, and then Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., have both said they are planning to petition for a reversal of the FCC ruling using the CRA.
However, the petition must also be signed by the president, and that’s only if it passes both the House and the Senate.
So far, the above situations – possible consequences and potential opposition alike – are hypothetical. Even if the repeal is not challenged, the changed regulations still have to be entered into the Federal Register to go into effect. The only reality is the actual repeal, in which Fackenthal said she was extremely disappointed.
“For weeks – even months – on social media, there was a gigantic outburst of backlash to the idea of (losing net neutrality),” she said.
“From the amount I saw, there seemed to be no way that the repeal would go through, and, more importantly, no way that anyone who actually used the internet at all would want it.”
But other students, despite being equally disappointed by the turn of events, admitted they could see it coming.
“The vote to repeal net neutrality protections was already planned several months ago, and (FCC chairman Ajit) Pai was very firm about getting rid of it,” junior Joe Mo said.
Junior Josh Friedman agreed, pointing out the failed effort in the last few months to persuade the FCC chairpeople against net neutrality to change their views and therefore votes.
“That (change) didn’t happen, so it was going to be 3-2 in favor of repealing,” he said.
And with a predictable 3-2 vote along party lines with Republicans leading, his prognosis held true.
Regardless, Friedman said he tried to spread awareness about the danger of repealing for months leading up to the decision.
“I (told) as many people as I could about what net neutrality was so that I could try and inform them properly,” he said. “People either didn’t know or didn’t care, thinking it didn’t affect them, when, in reality, it affects everybody.”
Friedman said his attempts to educate fellow classmates about the gravity of the situation are largely due to the impact the loss of neutrality would have on the future.
“Every single person that I’ve talked to uses the internet daily,” he said. “(Net neutrality’s repeal) affects everyone in the entire country, and I’m going to stress that point until it becomes relevant.”
Friedman focused especially on the importance for teenagers, as the current generation uses the internet more than any other before it and will also be most directly affected by the decision.
“This isn’t just some little thing that will pass over,” he said.
“This will affect you; this will affect your kids; this will affect your grandkids.”
Alternatively, Fackenthal focused on present implications when she expressed her worries about the aftermath of the repeal, or, more precisely, how it would affect students now.
She explained that losing net neutrality could allow internet carriers to make small websites have much smaller bandwidth in order for more popular sites to have the room for larger bandwidth.
“Obviously, this would really inconvenience a student who’s having trouble accessing an online study about cell mitosis, for example,” she said.
Concerns like this and more are all possibilities with a net-neutrality-free web, and it’s being encouraged online to fight against it.
Fackenthal and Mo both sent letters to and/or called Congress to protest the repeal before it was decided.
However, Mo has a different take on the matter now and has decided to trust the will of the people to protect what will be a vulnerable internet.
“I don’t think internet providers will start slowing down or censoring anything as long as the public remains concerned (because of the potential backlash they would get),” he said.
“It comes down to how much you trust your service provider with that kind of power.”
Mo said that net neutrality is really just a conflict between government and corporate control.
“Do you want the government to have the power (to) regulate internet access,” he asked, “or would you rather give that power to corporations?”
Mo said that he doesn’t believe the worst-case scenario will happen; however, he does have concerns over what internet providers might do with their increased powers.
But Mo added that whatever happens, he hopes that the internet remains free of “censorship and throttling.”
“I think that it’s important to keep the internet a free place where people can speak their minds,” he said.
“That is what the internet’s for. It’s a place for congregation, to speak with people who are like-minded – or aren’t like-minded – to discuss issues or just have fun.
“It’s crucial to keep a place like this free without too much regulation.”
According to Lincoln, the controversy over keeping or retaining net neutrality stems from the opposing opinions of two sides: the left and the right.
“Many on the left and moderate right argue that the internet has become such an important aspect of daily life for all Americans that companies shouldn’t be allowed to sell faster and better plans to the rich and leave the poor with consistently bad connections,” he sad.
“The argument used on the right, who typically support President (Trump’s) actions, argue this is just another infringement by the government to interfere in private enterprise.”
But even Lincoln, a Republican who calls himself a “very open and vocal supporter of the basic capitalistic principles that allowed America to grow and become the largest and wealthiest country in world history,” said he has reservations about the online restrictions that the repeal creates.
“The internet is no longer some choice that Americans can go between using and not using,” he said. “(It’s) now a vital and necessary (element of) how the world operates, no less important (than) utilities used every day, like electricity.”
While Lincoln said he is content with giving some “wiggle room” for internet providers to sell faster service and connections to those who can pay slightly higher prices, that’s as far as he supports the decision to end neutrality.
“Most of the changes (imposed by the repeal) will cause the opportunity and economic (ladder) to be accessible to (only) the wealthy and large companies, not those trying to grow or go up the economic ladder,” he said.
“The internet must be (accessible) to all people and companies. If the internet is used primarily by large companies (for) special interests, it would only cause a greater divide.”
However, sophomore Garrett Shonkwiler is on the other side of the issue and said that he’s surprised so many of his peers are against the repeal, seeing as net neutrality did not even exist until 2015.
“Before then, the internet grew and expanded for over a decade,” he said. “Since the ‘90s, the internet has (grown) so large that services such as YouTube and Netflix are now possible.
“This enormous progress was without net neutrality.”
Shonkwiler also pointed out that the ability of ISPs such as AT&T to charge businesses such as Netflix and Facebook different rates is a practice called “price discrimination,” which happens all the time.
“Some examples of price discrimination are on airplanes, where they charge you more for first-class seats; or movie theaters, where you can pay more to see something in 3-D,” he said.
“Price discrimination often drives change and innovation in companies, which is a good thing.”
If kept in place, net neutrality would effectively end price discrimination, which Shonkwiler said would take away the incentive for ISPs to grow or innovate.
“(The) repeal would put us back to where we were in 2015, which would not change things much for the average consumer,” he said. “It would also encourage innovation among companies.
“It is innovation which got the internet to where it is today.”
Despite differences of opinion, Lincoln said he thinks all teenagers should take part in the political process.
“I encourage everyone, whether a ‘Trumper’ or a ‘Bernieite,’ to get involved and make your voices heard,” he said.
Mo agreed, stressing the importance of staying informed about this particular issue, as public opinion is the only thing keeping internet providers from abusing their power.
“The best way to make a difference is being vocal about it,” he stated.
Mo said examples could include calling or mailing California representatives or even just posting about the situation on social media, as many companies pay attention to digital platforms. Both Mo and Nuñez said online petition sites like change.org and battleforthenet.com can also be effective.
If the repeal is not disputed by Congress, Friedman is sure that the official loss of net neutrality will cause users to really think about where they go on the net and what they access through it.
“They’ll be thinking about what they have to pay for and what they really want to use more often,” he said.
But, of course, Friedman said he hopes that Congress won’t approve. And even if it does, court cases are already being filed against the decision.
Friedman hopes that at least one case will reach the Supreme Court.
“This is a huge issue,” he said.
“This is keeping the internet free. If you use the internet a lot, you’re going to be paying more; your internet’s going to be slower; you’re going to have restricted access to some sites.
“It’ll be a radical reconstruction of what we already know and use.”
Friedman said he will take part in further action against the repeal if he can, either by attending local protests or sending letters to members of Congress.
Fackenthal said that she is also ready to keep fighting if there’s a chance of bringing net neutrality back.
“It’s wrong that five people decided in a closed room the fate of the free internet, (when) clearly nobody actually on the internet – no matter their purpose or political standing – wanted it,” she said.
—By Mohini Rye