By Brooke Adams
With the vote on Net Neutrality already underway, so many people still don’t understand what the current laws are and how they will be changed. How can something we’ve never heard of have such a big impact? Here is a simple explanation of Net Neutrality, why ISPs want to kill it, who will benefit from it and who will be hurt by it.
First, you have to know the lingo. ISP stands for Internet Service Provider; these are the people that give you WiFi. For many in San Marcos this is Grande, Spectrum, Dish, or AT&T. ‘Way back’ in the pre-Internet era, these companies took on the cost of building the infrastructure (cables in the ground, pipes, telephone wires, etc.) required for running these Internet services. Companies like Netflix, Google, Hulu, and all the other millions of sites we access daily don’t pay anything to these ISPs to run their services through said infrastructure. For a company like Netflix that takes up a ton of bandwidth and requires a lot of resources from the ISPs, it’s almost like a “free ride” in the eyes of these Internet providers.
So how does this relate back to Net Neutrality? The neutrality regulations force these ISPs to treat all internet traffic the same. They can’t prioritize Yahoo! search results over those of Google because Yahoo pays them more (or if it’s Verizon and they own it) and they can’t show you only Fox News and block CNN. The repeal of these regulations being voted on by the Federal Communications Commission, FCC, today would mean that ISPs can show, hide, or slow down any internet traffic they choose. Companies like AT&T would have an almost scary monopoly on information because they own a huge percentage of the infrastructure already in the ground and have created such effective barriers to entry in this industry.
But how does this come back to affect you? Since ISPs have to pay to maintain and grow the ever expanding Internet service requirements, you can see that they feel Netflix, Google, and similar companies should have to support some of those costs. However, this repeal of Net Neutrality places all of those costs back on the consumer (aka YOU).
By allowing the ISPs this level of control over the internet, instead of negotiating with the big business companies, they will simply charge consumers more. Maybe the website you need to access for your paper that’s due tomorrow isn’t a part of the Internet package you pay for monthly. Or maybe it isn’t supported at all by your ISP because the company couldn’t pay them enough. Imagine having to pay that extra $5, $10, or $20 a month just to access Twitter, Google, even Tracs. Not only is this a huge deal for consumers’ wallets, but it is a huge threat to access of information.
If you are a Spectrum user, you saw the NBC blackout on Thanksgiving that caused Spectrum customers to miss the Cowboys game. These blackouts happen when networks, in this case NBC, and cable providers, Spectrum, cannot come to an agreement on their contract (read: money). So, imagine this happens with the Internet. Sorry no Facebook today, they didn’t want to pay what AT&T was charging. Now, imagine that happens with McGraw Hill Connect. What if students are unable to complete their homework? Will our tuition rates go up so that Texas State can afford the Internet services that would be required for students to have even a chance of success?
What about the low income populations that can barely afford it as is? Most low income schools would not be able to pay for more Internet services, much less the low income families themselves. This could be blocking the National Geographic website from the next great explorer, a Rolling Stone article that inspires the next David Bowie, or a simple YouTube tutorial from a young student trying to build a volcano for her school science fair. The ISPs and the many government officials supporting this repeal of Net Neutrality are prioritizing their own profit over the possibility of advancing our population by allowing free and fair access to information.
If you’d like to stay tuned throughout the day, the FCC has a livestream of the vote here: https://www.fcc.gov/general/live.
Featured illustration by Erin Garrigan.