SWAG weighs in on repeal of net neutrality
Should internet service providers enable access to all online content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites?
That's the concept behind "net neutrality." But in a 3-2 vote in December, the Federal Communications Commission removed the rules it had put in place just two years earlier to prevent internet providers from blocking and throttling traffic.
Needless to say, the change worries some members of The Review's Student Writers Advisory Group, who — like their peers — spend a lot of time on the internet.
"We as a nation have become so accustomed to the constant flow of information provided by the internet that living without it, especially in today's age, is frightening," says Wilsonville High student Alyson Johnston.
But others, like Lake Oswego High's Joe Lantow, says the brouhaha over the repeal of net neutrality is much ado about nothing. It is, he says, "simply a small but important deregulatory step toward a more free internet and not, as it was characterized, the end of all technology as we know it."
Believing that the truth probably falls somewhere in between those extremes, we asked SWAG members to weigh in this month on the repeal of net neutrality. Here's what the had to say:
Limiting our perspectives
Freedom of expression is one of the most crucial pillars of American democracy, cementing a nation of individualistic thinkers and innovation. Increasingly, the internet has become the main forum for exchanging ideas and information, allowing people of all perspectives to interact.
As a result, the internet is no longer a simple product like a bottle of shampoo. It is the thread that connects us all, and as such it becomes a crucial right — the right to be informed and to express our opinions to the world. Thus, the recent repeal of net neutrality constitutes a denial of our rights as free thinkers and knowledgeable citizens.
In America, we pride ourselves on the fact that "all men are created equal." Unfortunately, the repeal of net neutrality allows internet service providers to charge more for access to certain websites or software. Unlimited information could therefore become a luxury for the elite, a situation that recalls a form of dictatorship or some dystopian society rather than an empowering democracy.
Even more dangerously, limited access to certain websites could also limit one's perspective. Imagine you are a sixth-grader researching a report on climate change. Your internet service provider, endorsing the view that climate change does not exist, blocks all access to scientific websites or slows them down enough so that you can only turn to questionable blogs that assert climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese.
Maybe you are informed enough to know this information to be fake. Imagine, however, that you inhabit an isolated community and have never before heard of climate change. You grow up believing climate change is a ridiculous conspiracy theory, along with all of your classmates who have grown up in a similarly secluded environment.
Perhaps such a situation is extreme, but when the internet forms one's only outlet to the world, any limitations within it will translate to limitations within one's own mind. Extrapolate this effect to all controversial issues, from racial conflicts to abortion to LGBTQ rights, and you have a nation completely and utterly polarized based on the daily news channels and websites to which the population has access.
The only way to harmonize a nation full of opposing viewpoints is for those at both ends of the spectrum to understand the other perspective, even if they do not agree — and such understanding can never occur without complete exposure to information.
As a high school student, I experience first-hand how much we teenagers depend on the internet, from social media to Youtube. We all have our own political and social opinions. Yet for the most part, we know what is happening in the world and possess the universe at our fingertips. Our world views are forming daily based on the constant stream of information pouring through our brains, gradually solidifying into the ideas we will hold as mature adults.
Net neutrality ensures that we at least have the opportunity of creating a complete picture of current events and issues. It ensures that the minorities amongst us have an equal chance to promote their cause and that we grow up in a nation where we can communicate with one another through a forum that encompasses individuals from all walks of life. The internet, for better or worse, is the uniting fabric of society; inhibiting its freedom means chaining our own ability to perceive the world in its entirety.
Lake Oswego High School
An abuse of power
In a political moment that seems defined by perpetual conflict, one dramatic government action has captivated the will and focus of the internet in a way nothing has before.
The conflict over net neutrality brought to the forefront political forces that have simply never been seen until now. It was, at once, a stunning demonstration of the awe-inspiring organizational power of the internet, and the futility of moral appeals in modern politics.
Of course, neither of these facts should prove surprising. After all, the conflict over net neutrality perfectly encapsulates our modern political zeitgeist. The clash of antiquity and modernity, the brazen overreach of an increasingly grotesque and overbearing corporate class, and of course, a vicious partisan struggle played out in all three branches of the government.
But it must be said that something feels different about the struggle over net neutrality. Perhaps it is the immediacy or intimacy; internet access is, after all, a subject of personal relevance to everyone. Perhaps it is the specter of such blatant corporate overreach. The privatization of a vital public utility is offensive.
However, I would contend that it is not merely the nature of this controversy, but the style of this fight that makes it so unusual. The various websites of the internet showed, for the first time, the almost limitless organizing power they possess. Intriguingly, the defense of net neutrality may represent the most effective argument in favor of it.
Played out on every social media platform, the nationwide outrage over net neutrality was a reminder that the ability of the internet to inform is unparalleled. It is not merely a public utility, but a uniquely important one. A repository of all our cultural and intellectual knowledge. To restrict access to it for the sake of profit would be an immense human tragedy.
For this reason, we must not merely look to protect net neutrality. We must seek to create an open internet, funded by taxpayer dollars, that allows free and full access to everyone in our nation.
To withhold from the impoverished access to certain sections of the internet is immoral. To do so at the behest of massive internet corporations is reprehensible. For the FCC and the Republican Party to so blatantly place the interests of political donors above those of their constituents is unforgivable.
West Linn High School
Voices will be silenced
As larger companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are given more leeway to call the shots on what websites, applications and databases can be accessed, a scary thought ensues. What will happen to sites that don't make a profit for these corporations?
Larger news outlets can make a profit off clicks and ad revenue, but small websites, perhaps those with marginalized community voices, may not be viewed quite as often. If these large companies decided to restrict entry, how will these voices be heard?
The truth is that sites that promote ideas that may not have as much traction online will be at risk of being silenced. This is alarming, especially in small towns and rural communities.
Since most secluded and sparsely populated communities have little to no broadband access, the choices they have for Internet Service Providers (ISP) are limited. But the protections that the FCC previously provided with net neutrality will now be stripped, leaving these communities vulnerable.
The large ISPs will theoretically have complete control over the prices of their services, which could allow them to spike rates in areas where service is harder to provide. Wilsonville is not as susceptible to this, as we have a large population and a lot of internet access. But other surrounding communities, as well as people who live in more secluded homes, may be impacted.
The amount of news and opinions that come across our paths is immense. But repealing guidelines that protect marginalized voices and rural communities will limit access to that information, and it will infringe on the freedom to share and publish ideas.
Wilsonville High School
Creating digital inequality
Throwing out net neutrality would weaken worldwide education, because digital inequality equals educational inequality.
In the past, internet service providers were required to provide the same speed of service for everyone to access all websites. However, the Federal Communications Commission recently voted to change these rules, which means large companies can pay premium prices to ISPs so their websites load and run quickly.
In contrast, smaller businesses, nonprofits and individuals' websites don't have the resources to compete with bigger companies, and some of the most serious effects of that will be directed toward students. For example, schools in rural areas often utilize online connections to university research centers; their curriculum now could suffer if they can no longer access the resources efficiently.
Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, describes the repeal of net neutrality as a strike against education equality.
"The onternet, for the first time, leveled that playing field because it didn't matter if you were in a wealthy school or an under-resourced school," he says. "As soon as that goes away, we're back to where we were before, where students are getting short-changed based on the zip code they live in or the socioeconomic status of their community because they aren't able to pay for those resources again."
If certain schools cannot afford high-speed internet access, they will be cut off from valuable educational opportunities — everything from video tutoring services to participating in virtual science labs on the other side of the country. Without financial incentives, carriers could slow down or push these resources aside to make room for paying customers' content.
As Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University, states, "While Hulu will be able in 10 years to deliver multi-terabyte holographic versions of 'The Good Wife' to your living room, the peer-to-peer video your campus is using will remain rooted in (2017), always on the verge of (functioning), but never quite making it to the next level."
The repeal of net neutrality will also harm low-income communities that rely on public libraries to access information. Libraries offer community members without home internet a place to do research and obtain homework help. Many students need this type of computer access, which also includes health information and job and college opportunities. Without net neutrality, those opportunities could be limited and controlled by internet providers.
There are many more concerns about repealing net neutrality, especially when it is not clear when we will see changes start to occur. However, the impact on educational equality is something we should keep an eye on.
Lakeridge High School
The Federal Communications Commission justifies its recent repeal of net neutrality with the argument that, in an economy anchored in the principles of capitalism, we must treat the internet like any other capital good or commodity, governed only by the companies themselves and competition between them.
Many people agree in principle that the U.S. government should not obstruct free-market forces. But is it really wrong to interfere with a decision that could have destructive consequences on the way our country functions and progresses?
Past leaders haven't thought so. Time and again, the government has acted upon a moral responsibility to protect its citizens — to a certain extent — from businesses that may abuse their power and pose a threat to social welfare. In 1887, when Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act to control railroad monopolies, it had the good of the people in mind, not the railroad market. When Congress implemented workplace safety regulations and minimum-wage laws to keep businesses from exploiting lower-class workers, it was protecting the workers, not the companies.
Even in a capitalist country, we value the right to an equitable standard of living and equal access to certain services. And recently, the internet has become as intrinsic a part of our society, if not more so, as railroads were in 1887.
With limited access to the internet, people will lose a form of free speech and of learning about the world around them. Furthermore, the groups most likely to be blocked from the internet are the already-marginalized groups of society — those who represent minority viewpoints or cannot afford such a commodity.
Millions of people use the internet as a platform to express themselves and their beliefs, share information on research or innovations that have potential to change the world, or connect with the world around them. That's why the FCC's net neutrality repeal is an instance that most certainly demands government interference. The internet has evolved into a right for all U.S. citizens, and luckily, there are plenty of historical precedents supporting the government's responsibility and inclination to step in when free-market forces threaten these sorts of rights and freedoms.
Lake Oswego High School
A web of lies
It's weird. I looked outside today, and brimstone wasn't falling out of the sky. There was no lava spewing forth from rents in the Earth, and Cthulhu didn't even have the decency to RSVP.
I was promised an apocalypse, and all I got was another boring Sunday morning.
Unsurprisingly, the internet still works, despite all the promises to the contrary. It turns out that the repeal of net neutrality is simply a small but important deregulatory step towards a more free internet, and not, as it was characterized, the end of all technology as we know it. In fact, net neutrality advocates lied about several key issues, muddying the waters of what should have been a clear policy debate.
Here'sa few of the big lies.
• Entrepreneurs will be strangled by low speeds while big companies will be boosted: According to former FCC Chairman Robert McDowell, such action would trigger Section I and Section II of the Sherman Act and Section III of the Clayton Act. Because of these antitrust acts, such throttling was illegal before the FCC reclassified ISPs under Title 2, and it will be illegal after net neitrailty is repealed.
• Big corporations want to repeal net neutrality: It is true that companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T support the repeal of net neutrality. But those aren't the only big companies in America. It's also not just small businesses supporting net neutrality regulations, unless your definition of a small business includes Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix and Google, to name a few.
• Net neutrality protected startups like Google and Netflix: This claim is the most ridiculous one. While it's hard to pinpoint which regulation net neutrality advocates claim "saved the internet," the FCC reclassified broadband access as a telecommunications device on Feb. 26, 2015. — which means almost all of the internet services you use on an everyday basis grew up when net neutrality wasn't a thing.
It's impossible to have rational debates about public policy when lies are accepted as factual statements. It's not like net neutrality advocates are coming from the wrong place — it's just that some advocates think the issue is so important that truth should take a back seat. Unfortunately, this blurs the lines of nuance that are so important for complicated topics like the internet.
If it isn't evident that net neutrality is a good policy without lies, then it isn't a policy you should lie about.
Lake Oswego High School
Who will protect consumers?
Now that net neutrality rules have been revoked, how we can make sure that internet providers don't overstep their newfound freedom?
Part of the repeal approved in December stated that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be assigned to take action if an internet provider undermines competition or harms consumers, but it turns out that the FTC has no jurisdiction over internet providers.
In 2014, the FTC sued AT&T for falsely advertising "unlimited" data plans. Once in court, AT&T argued that the FTC couldn't prosecute the company because AT&T considered itself and other internet providers to be "common carriers," or companies that provide public telecommunications networks. And the FTC, in its founding statutes, states that it does not have authority over "common carriers."
The three-judge panel overturned a lower court's decision and ruled in favor of AT&T, which meant that the FTC was indeed overstepping and does not have the right to regulate internet companies that limit access. So we're leaving the situation up to an agency that can't promise to do its job to protect consumers.
Comcast and Charter Communications (the two largest cable companies in the U.S.) have promised not to "block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content," even though they don't have to follow net neutrality rules anymore. This move isn't surprising, given the need for these companies to establish trust with their existing or potential customers after December's policy change.
But what these internet service providers haven't done is mention how the concept of "zero rating" affects their products.
Zero rating is is the practice of providing internet access without financial cost under certain conditions, such as by only permitting access to certain websites or by subsidizing the service with advertising. This could be considered anti-competitive behavior, because providers could give preferential treatment (like lower costs) to their own services and reduce the chance that their customers would use competing services.
Before the repeal, internet providers had a harder time implementing the practice because the Federal Communications Commission was breathing down their neck. But now that net neutrality regulations are gone, companies could be let off the hook. That means that the issue has room to grow into a much larger problem that can reach a wider range of users, making the process of supervising internet providers more and more complicated.
The decision to nullify net neutrality regulations comes with a lot of baggage that we don't seem prepared to handle. There are multiple ways that internet providers can choose from to get around the rules. Hoping that they'll uphold their promises isn't enough when no one is ready to take action when they don't.
Lake Oswego High School
A clear difference
The first time I heard of net neutrality was in December, the day it was repealed. And I did not look into it until I overheard someone saying that each Google search would cost almost a dollar.
Knowing that my entire life would change if this was the case, I decided to research the effects of the repeal of net neutrality. Although the consequences were not as severe as $1 Google searches, I found that the repeal of net neutrality could have very real consequences.
Net neutrality, which was passed in 2015 under the Obama administration, classified broadband service as a utility, meaning that internet providers were not allowed to block websites, slow down websites or charge more for faster internet speeds. I had personally taken all of these liberties for granted, until I saw how life was different in other countries without net neutrality.
When I looked for countries without net neutrality, Portugal was often the example given to explain what internet service in the United States could become.
In Portugal, subscribers pay a base fee for service, but then have to pay $6 more per month in order to add more data for a certain purpose. I found that I used all five of the categories that cost more on a daily basis: instant messaging apps, social media, video platforms (such as Youtube or Netflix), email and music. It had never occurred to me that to use anything in these five categories could cost more money; I had always considered all of these a basic part of the internet.
What caught my attention the most, however, was the fact that I had to look no further than the first example of the difference between having and not having net neutrality to realize that many of the things that I do could change because of the repeal of net neutrality. Having realized that,I am waiting to see the changes that the repeal of net neutrality may bring in the future.
Lake Oswego High School
Money, politics to blame
There's a simple process to understanding the recent debacle over net neutrality: Net neutrality is good, therefore repealing net neutrality is bad. And the issue with net neutrality may not even be an issue of net neutrality at all.
Net neutrality is good because it grants equal data protection. Treating data equally allows startups the opportunity to supplant brands and grow business — that was the case for Facebook and Netflix and other recognizable tech giants when they were nascent.
The repeal of net neutrality would essentially skew the internet's playing field, expose startups to vulnerability and grant internet service providers the right to monopolize (and, by the way, ISPs like Verizon and Comcast had already divided up the country into monopolized regions, so this wasn't regulated enough in the first place).
Supporters of net neutrality argue that it will keep current internet speeds but provide a unique "hyperspeed" lane throughout the internet. This argument is used to persuade ordinary people into thinking that, even though Comcast could manipulate companies into paying more for faster service, smaller companies that are unable to pay would still provide fast service. But evidence shows otherwise.
In the past few years, if companies didn't comply with ISP demands and pay premiums for faster service, they lost consumption. So there won't actually be two "fast" lanes; instead, standards will be raised and the gap between fast and slow internet service will widen.
But is the issue really with net neutrality, or with a lack of regulation in general?
No one really benefits from net neutrality other than the ISPs, and the cycle is simple: They lobby for lessened regulation and receive exactly that with the help of a few million dollars. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and executives of these ISPs know exactly what they're doing, but the unfair exchange of funds in politics isn't unique to net neutrality.
So is this an issue with net neutrality? No, not really. It brings attention to influences in politics and the danger that surfaces with a lack of regulation. Our country is based on the values of freedom and independence, and that's a crucial part of net neutrality. With the sudden repeal, we continue to see those freedoms stripped from ordinary people by the corruption that arises in Washington.
Lake Oswego High School
Only corporations will benefit
Given the average adolescent's devotion to social media, I decided to ask a few teenagers — through text messages — how they felt about the repeal of net neutrality. Some teens were against the repeal, but others did not know enough about the topic to cast judgement.
One of the teens I interviewed was Ellie.
"I think it's stupid and the only reason anyone voted to repeal it was because they were being paid by big companies," Ellie said. "It's also a perfect example of capitalism, which I hate. It could potentially hurt students and business owners who have to buy the cheaper plans because everything will be slowed down."
Another student, Lily, was also against the repeal.
"I am irritated by the fact that it is being repealed," she said. "I'm mad that it is just another step into how it's becoming a corporate America, because the only people it would truly benefit are the big corporations, yet it was repealed. It shows how little politics is about democracy, and how it is now just about the battle between Republicans and Democrats."
Abigail also opposed the repeal.
"I think it's terrifying," she said. "I think that most of our lives revolve around the internet, and it's pretty mind-blowing that big companies could take advantage of our lives like that. It would completely take over our lives on the internet, and I really don't understand why this would be a good thing for anyone except for the heads of powerful online companies."
In any case, Ellie said, it will likely be a while before the impact of the repeal is really felt.
Lake Oswego High School
Waiting and watching
With net neutrality taking over the news for the past month, there's not much I can say about the pros and cons of the subject that hasn't already been said a hundred times over. Where I have the ability to differ from every other media outlet, however, is my age.
I was 8 years old when the Obama administration entered the White House. Obama is the first president whose administration and policies I could understand and follow, because as I got older and obtained the maturity and capability to understand politics, Obama was in charge. Because of this, I don't remember life before net neutrality, or the problems that gave reason for its implementation.
I grew up using a net neutrality-protected Internet, so for me, this is a chance to experience the internet without net neutrality. I don't really know what to expect, and therefore, I can't yet be positive if this a good or bad thing.
My initial response to this change is worry, because I am a child of the 21st century and the internet is something I use on a daily basis. I just can't yet guarantee myself that there is reason to worry because I don't actually know for sure what affect this will have on us.
I know the predictions that are circulating, which are not too different from my own, but there is no way of actually knowing until it happens. The only thing I can do now is wait and hope that internet providers don't misuse their new freedoms.
Lakeridge High School
Even mom opposes repeal
Most people support net neutrality, because its repeal means that internet service providers will be able to block and censor whatever content they choose. Not only that, but the repeal gives them the ability to create different packages instead of just charging one price for all websites. While the changes might not come immediately, repeal is a step that couldl hurt the users of the internet in the future.
Having lived through the evolution of the internet, my mother, Weiwen Lai, is aware of digital content and the specifics regarding it. She supports net neutrality. Before net neutrality, she describes how there was no fair competition between different ISPs, with major ISPs dominating the market. There was a very limited number of ISPs, and browsers did not work well with competitors.
The implementation of net neutrality created a more diverse range of choices in regard to ISPs. Digital content itself became a lot more accessible, given that users had a larger variety or choices. Pricing was more fair, given there was more competition.
With this repeal, the internet is going to change. "A monopoly is likely to happen," my mother believes, "and the customers will find themselves in a disadvantages position. The distribution of digital content is also going to be affected by this repeal."
Digital content may become controlled, instead of staying readily available as it was with net neutrality. Availability and filtering will be manipulated, my mother says, through different pricing, for example. The change in cost structures will most definitely affect access.
All these changes, she reasons, are neither beneficial nor ideal. A supporter of net neutrality, she is against this repeal and all it brings.
Lake Oswego High School