By Nick Oefinger and Kyle Perkins.
Net neutrality has become a hot-button issue, mired in endless accusations of corruption and exploitation. The simple analogy for what it is, and why it is vital, can be found in the concept of toll booths.
Imagine, for a moment, that at the end of your driveway there were a toll booth, which you had to pass through in order to gain access to the public road network. Every month, you pay the company that owns your toll booth $100 (or thereabouts). Every time you try to leave your driveway, you have to wait for the toll booth to recognize your account information—and verify that your billing is up to date. Sometimes, as often as once a week, the company experiences up to half a day of technical issues; during this time, you can’t leave your driveway. You’re paid in full, but their ability to recognize this is temporarily out of order (the infrastructure of the internet is not, itself, malfunctioning).
This is the equivalent of what ISPs are already doing. They are not responsible for the design, implementation or maintenance of the internet’s physical infrastructure, and they do not store, manage, or provide content, beyond what is available on their own websites. They simply charge you for the privilege of accessing it.
As if this weren’t bad enough, what the rollback of net neutrality would mean for these massive enterprises is even worse. Imagine, for instance, the tollbooth scenario described above. One day, you get in your car, and you tell your GPS that you’re going to go to Wal-Mart. Instantly, the tollbooth gate closes, blocking your access to the road; why? The company that owns your tollbooth also has an interest in Costco. If you insist upon going to Wal-Mart, they can’t stop you—but, without net neutrality, there’s nothing to stop them from charging you an extra $20/month to use the public roads to reach Wal-Mart.
Also, you’ll be restricted to a maximum speed of 15 MPH. Unless, of course, you’re driving to Costco. If this sounds unfair to you, it’s not because the comparison is false, or is being misrepresented. It’s because, whether due to limited understanding of the concept or direct complicity, the government is trying to force an unfair censure of free expression on our country. Many Americans don’t understand how the internet works, and do not understand what a rollback of net neutrality laws would mean.
5 Things You Can Do to Help Save Net Neutrality, Right Now
If you’re concerned about protecting your freedom to go about your business online, without your internet bandwidth being throttled down and your access restricted to websites your provider prefers, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans acted to protect net neutrality in 2016, with the result being that the internet was recognized as a telecommunications network. The US Court of Appeals determined that internet users must be provided with the same protections which have benefited telephone users for decades. Here we are now, one year later, and the FCC and Big Telecom are hoping that everyone is now relaxed and complacent enough that they can slip the end of net neutrality (and with it, online privacy) under our noses—again.
Here’s how you can help stop them.
Sign a Petition, or Two
Several petitions have been circulated with the intent of challenging the imminent repeal of net neutrality. In 2016, the same process was successful in forestalling the previous effort to repeal net neutrality: the appeals court ruled in favor of the interests of the majority of United States citizens. We know that the process can work, but it needs as much support as it can get! This petition on We The People, the White House petition website, is still open; its far-surpassed goal is arbitrary, and does not guarantee a response. The more people sign it, the more likely it is to receive timely attention.
Should you be interested in taking things one step further, another petition could also use your help. It calls for the resignation of Ajit V. Pai, Trump’s appointed head of the FCC. Like many of Trump’s appointees, Ajit Varadaraj Pai has a vested personal interest in that area of public policy which he is now in charge of regulating, and it does not involve any semblance of fairness, or of what is best for the American people. Ajit has always been, and remains, a staunch opponent of consumer protection laws of any kind.
Visit Battle for the Net
Battle for the Net is a free, conveniently organized website run by Free Press, which provides immediate access to everything that’s discussed in the following three steps. It’s lightweight, easy to navigate, and devoid of advertising. They make it simple and easy to contact your congressional representatives, or to find an organized and peaceful protest near your location. They also allow you to conveniently share your activity through the world’s most popular social media platforms.
Battle for the Net provides suggestions for what to include in your form submissions, and for what to say over the phone, while allowing you to customize your message to reflect what the issue means to you personally. It’s a one-stop shop for making absolutely certain that your voice is coming through loud and clear.
Send a Message
By providing your phone number, you’ll also be letting Free Press know that you might be interested in volunteering your services to help coordinate this and other vital efforts to support our personal freedoms. This is entirely optional. After submitting a written email, you will be automatically prompted to place a call (see the following step). This is not required, but would be tremendously advantageous to the effort: government metrics still place significant emphasis on the number of people who are willing to pick up the phone.
Call Your Congressional Representative (Then Call Somebody Else’s)
One of the most compelling things you can do, by way of making your voice heard, is to call your congressional representative. This is a part of every American’s rights, and might even be considered a civic duty: to let your representative know exactly what you’re feeling, and why, without any miscommunication in between. If they hear from enough people, it will allow them to make a more broadly-informed decision based on what their constituents want.
After submitting your written message to congress, you can volunteer to call one or more representatives. The Battle for the Net website will help connect you, and provide suggestions on what to say. You aren’t bound to following a script; suggestions are made in the event that they are needed, due to nervousness or anxiety, or in the event that you wish to convey a brief, carefully-crafted summary of the argument in favor of net neutrality.
Attend a Protest Near You
Ajit V. Pai, the FCC’s new chairman, was previously one of Verizon’s most prominent lawyers. His interests in trying to end net neutrality are in line with the desires of his former employer, as evidenced by the FCC’s description of the role ISPs play in providing internet access. The FCC’s plan is based on a blatant falsehood, a fact of which Mr. Pai is very much aware. Internet service providers, or ISPs, provide access to an infrastructure developed with hundreds of billions of dollars in government money. They are not responsible for storing, maintaining, or facilitating deeper access to the information available online, and they have failed to uphold their contractual obligations for maintaining the web’s physical infrastructure.
Free Press, Fight for the Future, and Demand Progress are cooperatively maintaining a website which provides essential information regarding net neutrality. This website is also coordinating efforts to protest the upcoming rollback of net neutrality protections, something the general public has repeatedly proclaimed it do not wish to see happen. Millions of people have signed petitions, contacted congress, and appeared in ongoing protest events. This level of activism still produces results; with your help, it may do so once again.
Regardless of which avenue you choose to take, the main takeaway from this is that you have to take at least one, if not all of them, to ensure that we aren’t cosigning dystopian legislation into law with our silence.