Commentary

Why You Should Worry About Losing Net Neutrality

Jul 12, 2017

Do you use the Internet? Then you have some work to do—right now.

The new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is leading a dangerous effort to roll back net neutrality rules that keep Internet service providers (ISPs) from engaging in data discrimination, like slowing down Internet speeds for some content and charging a fee for “fast lanes.”

Team Internet is speaking out Wednesday to defend net neutrality. The cause unites consumer groups, tech giants, startups, libraries, media organizations, civil rights activists, faith communities, and ordinary Internet users who recognize that free speech and innovation on the Internet are threatened in the absence of net neutrality.

The broadness of the Team Internet coalition should tell you something: If you use the Internet to speak, learn, socialize, or do business, you need real net neutrality.

Here’s the key problem net neutrality rules help fix: Because most Americans have only one choice for high-speed broadband service, ISPs such as Comcast (cmcsa) and AT&T (t) have tremendous power to funnel customers to their own content, or offer “fast lanes” to a few platforms that can pay for special access to customers. Net neutrality rules prevent them from doing that. Without net neutrality, powerful legacy tech companies will be able to buy their way into the fast lane, but new ones won’t. Nor will activists, churches, libraries, hospitals, schools, or local governments.

The Internet was built on the simple but powerful idea that while you, the customer, may need to pay a service provider for Internet access, that provider doesn’t get to shape what you access. That idea has helped foster an explosion of economic growth. Anyone who wants to offer a new Internet service can reach everyone on the Internet, without paying extra fees to any provider. Users, in turn, can make their own choices about which services they want to use—including the next Twitter (twtr)/Facebook (fb)/Snapchat (snap) that’s being created in someone’s basement right now.

That idea has also helped galvanize a wealth of political expression and organizing. Conservative activists from around the country coalesced over various social networking platforms to form the Tea Party movement. The Black Lives Matter movement used Twitter to help spark a national conversation on racial inequality. The Standing Rock Sioux used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to galvanize national support for their protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline and its threat to their drinking water. Earlier this year, organizers used Facebook and Twitter to share information, plan events, and motivate participation in the Women’s March. And all of these activities and platforms depend on the existence of open communications protocols that let us connect online without having to ask permission from any company or government.

We can’t let the FCC undo these protections. So Team Internet is stepping up once again to tell the FCC that it works for the American people, not Comcast, Verizon (vz), or AT&T.

Corynne McSherry is legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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