Human Rights – Read any list of trending topics and you will see at least ONE article about human rights. The topics might range from LGBTQ+, political, or even birth related. However, the human rights campaign that most Americans have no clue about, but effects EVERY SINGLE person in America is Net Neutrality. What if I told you that big corporations like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner were holding the information you see hostage? People get riled up enough when they hear that their cellular data is being throttled after they reach a threshold, but what if I told you certain websites were being slowed to the point of not loading until a ransom was paid?
When the average person hears a topic related to the tech forum immediately tune it out. I hear everything from, “I am not very technically inclined” to “I really hate technology” or even “I am not that great with computers.”
So what is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is the notion that Internet Service Providers (ISP), like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, et. al are essentially utilities and should remain neutral in managing internet traffic. In layman’s terms, I should be able to get to Netflix just as quick as I can get to the New York Times or Facebook without intervention from my ISP. In the past, it has been rumored that ISPs were throttling or slowing speeds to certain bandwidth hogging sites to discourage use or to at the very least free up some speed for other people. Net Neutrality says that cannot happen. It says that every bit of information that is transmitted via any ISP is to be treated equally.
This is not hypothetical
In blog posts dating back as far as 2013, Netflix began to index how their service faired on different ISPs, and after rumors of a Comcast/Time Warner merger Netflix agreed to pay Comcast for prioritized service in February of 2014. This meant essentially Netflix gave into Comcast’s ransom demands to ensure their service would play smoothly for those customers with Comcast internet. “The ISPs aren’t seeking to get paid, they’re seeking to get paid twice: once by you, and a second time because you are now their hostage and the companies you want to do business with have to get through them to get to you,” said Digital Rights Activist, Cory Doctorow (The Guardian 2014).
I don’t have Netflix though. Why do I care?
Let’s take a look at what we use the internet for besides social media and streaming media. The voters registration, birth certificates, driver licenses, water or electric connection. Yes, in America those items can usually be requested in person, but think about other necessities that are becoming harder and hard to come by in print: news articles, encyclopedias, even whole libraries are now housed online. Cory Doctorow, has held for many years that access to the internet is a basic human right. “The internet is only that wire that delivers freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in a single connection. It’s only vital to the livelihood, social lives, health, civic engagement, education and leisure of hundreds of millions of people (and growing every day). (The Guardian 2008)” In fact, in 2009 the French government agreed, stating that until convicted in court a person accused of piracy under the Creation and Internet law (HADOPI) could not be stripped of their access to the internet.
While, Net Neutrality does not deal with disconnecting people from the internet it definitely deals with censorship. Censorship, as defined by the ACLU is: “the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others.” For instance, China’s version of the internet has been described as a reverse black hole for information. Nothing gets in, but some stuff gets out. This is a country where the internet is so censored that pages we take for granted like, Google are blocked. Why? Because Google provides information juxtaposed to the government’s ideology.
So what would happen if one day Google lost favor in America? If Yahoo News posted an article not in direct alignment with Verizon’s marketing, or a hashtag appeared on Twitter chronicling the failures of AT&T. Bad PR is not always good PR. Without Net Neutrality an ISP in one of those situations could easily divert traffic from those sites by simply slowing traffic down to a crawl. They wouldn’t be blocking access, but they certainly would be limiting it. Because let’s be honest, who has time to wait for a pageloads of 30 seconds or more?
Why are we still talking about this?
In 2015 the FCC, after at least a decade of debate, ruled that the internet was a utility. They ruled that the internet was as essential as a phone, water, power, and natural gas. AT&T was nonplussed with this ruling and has taken their fight to the higher courts; Yesterday the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled again that the Internet is a utility. These are HUGE victories for every person in America. Because it means while capitalism is alive and well, that those corporations are not immune to human rights infringement. It means that the rights of the people are being placed over the returns of stakeholders and that the original ideologies of our forefathers are being upheld. It does not matter your race/color or creed/religion. It does not matter your sexual orientation, economic standing, or immigration status. If you are in America these rulings pertain to you! This IS the very reason why I love the law. Checks and balances, the voice of the people being heard, and the victories that result.