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Net neutrality: where are we going?

May. 18, 2018
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On Wednesday, action was taken in the Senate to stop the repeal of the Obama-era rules known as net neutrality.

If you need a refresher, net neutrality is the idea that internet providers must maintain equal availability to all legal content on the internet without prioritizing some sites over others, regardless of source or creator. Net neutrality was created to protect the internet and its users from business interest and maintain it as a “public good.” Basically, this repeal of net neutrality could result in internet companies like AT&T and Comcast creating paid “fast lanes” for content that they want to prioritize. This gives companies huge influence over internet consumers, which, in this day and age, affects just about everyone. 

Despite the recent win for net neutrality in the Senate, with a narrow vote of 52-47 according to USA Today, net neutrality is not expected to prevail in the House of Representatives. 

Last December, fear flooded the internet when the U.S. Senate voted to get rid of net neutrality. At the time, you may have read articles defining net neutrality, speculating about the future of the internet, and coming out in vehement opposition to the Senate’s actions. However, in recent months, net neutrality discourse seems to have died down. 

“The rare victory for Democrats is sure to be short-lived, with a similar resolution expected to die in the House, where Republicans have a larger majority. Only three Republican senators voted in support of the resolution,” wrote The New York Times in an article published Wednesday

Interestingly enough, The New York Times’s article also mentions net neutrality as “a centerpiece of 2018 strategy” for the Democratic party. They hope that by supporting net neutrality, a topic that bears a lot of weight with younger voters, the Democrats can gain strong support among this younger demographic. By encouraging call-ins to senators and representatives on issues that younger voters are more actively invested in than, say, tax code riddled with jargon, the Democratic party is capitalizing on a more politically engaged youth. It is important to keep in mind that every player in this greater debate of net neutrality has their own interests at the center of their platform. 

With so much to consider, what does this mean for the future of the internet? It is a question everyone should still have on their minds. Discussion has not ended, it has really only begun. Even with Facebook and Instagram’s evolving algorithms prioritizing content that gets more likes, individual artists and small, independent businesses are hurt. Is this a taste of what the internet without net neutrality could look like? At least with algorithms, users get to decide what gains popularity. Social movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo have grown out of the freedom of speech that a combination of social media platforms and an unfettered internet provide. If large providers are the entities who get to decide what kind of content each of us sees, smaller, less mainstream voices could be stifled, if not muted entirely.