Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler took a strong stance in support of net neutrality in a statement released by Wired magazine on Feb. 4. This is a move that activists and Internet users have been awaiting for over a decade, using that time to submit over 4 million comments directly to the FCC, urging the agency to pass strong regulations to protect the free nature of the Internet.
One of the most dangerous parts of the debate on net neutrality is our generation’s potential lack of appreciation for protecting net neutrality. We — students, entrepreneurs and artists — are the benefactors of an Internet experience that is dramatically shaped by the policies of governmental bodies like the FCC.
When we access data on the Internet, it is sent to our computer in packets of information. The concept of net neutrality seems difficult, but is simply the principle that Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon should not discriminate against certain types of traffic as it passes from the Internet to our computers. Under the principle of net neutrality, all data packages are processed and sent out at the same rate, in the order that they are received. This process ensures that every website, from Netflix to your dog’s blog, has the ability to serve Internet users on an even playing field by sending and receiving data at an equal rate. In the absence of net neutrality, the Internet could become a space of unequal development, where websites would have to “pay-to-play.” Essentially, without strong regulations, ISPs could exploit their power to charge existing or entrenched websites higher rates to send data packages faster.
This outcome could have disastrous effects on the development of new technologies, business ventures and the output of dissident opinions because websites that want to reach users quickly could be shut out if they lack the funding to pay powerful ISPs. Wheeler’s proposed rules will do away with the possibility of this Internet dystopia, banning “paid prioritization and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services.”
As NYU students who experience all the benefits of a free and neutral Internet, it is in our best interest to do all we can to preserve it, so that we can continue to use the Internet for what it was originally intended — a universally accessible forum for commerce, news, opinions and culture. While we should applaud Wheeler’s efforts to support net neutrality ahead of the Feb. 26 vote on the FCC floor, we must also continue to write to the FCC to show an outpouring of public support for net neutrality and ensure that these proposals are signed into law.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 17 print edition. Email Olivia Martin at [email protected]