Net neutrality has been a vital issue since Tim Wu coined the term back in 2003. Net neutrality has made the internet what it is today. It is the doctrine of allowing equal access to content and applications to all, generally known as Title II. The net neutrality argument falls on whether governments and private companies should regulate the internet or if it should remain an open, free market.
On June 14, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied challenges against the Obama Administration’s rules for net neutrality, which ensured equal access to all consumers. This was an important victory for proponents of an unregulated internet, but now that the Trump Administration is in place, net neutrality is threatened again.
On Jan. 23, President Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai, a known opponent of net neutrality, to chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Aware of the fact that some staff members in the FCC were concerned with him being appointed to the position, Pat decided to address their worries head on.
“One of the most significant things that I’ve seen during my time here is that there is a digital divide in this country—between those who can use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not,” Paid said. “I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close that divide.”
When queried by reporters during a press conference, Pai made his intentions clear.
“I favor a free and open internet and I oppose Title II,” Pai said.
On Feb. 26, 2015 the FCC passed an Open Internet Order through a 3-2 decision that reclassified broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. This gave the FCC the ability to create blanket rules that prohibit problematic acts of discrimination. For example, it prohibits companies from purposefully slowing internet speeds and blocking content based on how much customers pay for internet connection.
The second subsection of Title II of the Communications Act, established in 1934, states that common carriers cannot make any “unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities or services.”
This exposes the truth about Pai’s view of a “free and open internet.” Without Title II, the internet service providers would have too much power in controlling access to content that better serves their business interests.
It could lead to monopolies, as some companies might strike deals with ISPs that allow its users to have certain benefits competitors would not. There is also a concern that some websites or applications could be throttled or even blocked because they report information about certain corporations.
To be fair, some people who oppose net neutrality have a few strong arguments. Some say the act gives the government too much reach or that changing certain services with more bandwidth a little extra would bring a new source of revenue for investment in building and creating faster networks.
The biggest problem overshadowing these arguments is oversight. A lack of safeguards would allow the system to be easily manipulated. In the digital age that we live in, it has become necessary to adjust and improve past regulations. What worked in 1934 doesn’t work today, and that is the price you pay for technological progress.
Pai claims to want “a free and open internet” and wishes to close the digital divide, but his Feb. 3 decision to prevent nine companies from providing federally subsidized internet to the poor conveys his desire to do the exact opposite.
Pai increased the digital divide when he refused to allow these companies to participate in the Lifeline program, which provides registered households a $9.25-a-month credit so that they can afford internet.
For Kajeet Inc., this news is especially worrisome.
“I’m most concerned about the children we serve,” Kajeet founder Daniel Neal told the Washington Post. “We partner with school districts in 41 states and the District of Columbia to provide educational broadband so that poor kids can do their homework.”
It’s hard to keep up with all the changes happening in our government, but we must do our best to make sure that people in charge, like Ajit Pai, are held accountable. The technology industry will be a major part of our future as a country, and everyone deserves the chance to be technologically literate—regardless of income.
– Joe Grist is an English sophomore
Original article posted via Texas State's The University Star. Published in the Opinions section on Feb 18, 2017. Illustration by Flor Barajas