Net neutrality: defending our right to free speech

Maria Rovito
Managing Editor

As Americans, we have a constitutional right to free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, as listed by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

In the 21st Century, however, technology has drastically altered the ways we communicate with one another. We are becoming globally accessible right from our cell phones, computers, and other devices constantly attached to ourselves.

Due to this impact, our rights to connect with each other and communicate are essential to our individual, economic, and political freedoms. These methods of communication are universally accessible, open, affordable, and instant.

networksIn recent years, however, phone, cable, and Internet corporations have trampled on these rights, using economic power to alter the ways we use the Internet to connect our thoughts and ideas around the world.

The concept of net neutrality has been around since the early 2000s, stating that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication, according to Columbia media law professor Tim Wu. This is the concept of an “open Internet”, one where democratic thoughts and ideas can be shared equally by all users.

On May 15, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stated that “The Internet is America’s most important platform for economic growth, innovation, competition, free expression, and broadband investment and deployment. The Internet has become an essential tool for Americans and for the growth of American businesses. That’s because the Internet has been open to new content, new products and new services, enabling consumers to choose whatever legal content, services and applications they desire. We will ensure that that all who use the Internet can enjoy robust, fast and dynamic Internet access.”

In describing its opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality rules, Verizon claimed it has the First Amendment right to “edit the Internet.” Like other telecoms, Verizon insists that because it controls the broadband connections we use to get online, it also has the right to determine what we do and say online.

Cable companies, like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, want to charge content providers who require guaranteed speedy data delivery, to create advantages for their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video services – and slowing access or blocking access to those of competitors.

Net neutrality advocates argue that allowing cable companies, often termed “content gatekeepers”, the right to demand a toll to guarantee quality or premium delivery would create what Tim Wu calls an “unfair business model.” Advocates warn that by charging “every web site, from the smallest blogger to Google”, network owners may be able to block competitor web sites and services, as well as refuse access to those unable to pay. According to Tim Wu, cable companies plan to “carve off bandwidth” for their own television services and charge companies a toll for “priority” service.

censorshipUltimately, they want to obtain the role of gatekeeper, and monitor the exchange of information between the people of the world. They desire to undermine the world’s free and open technologies, therefore dismantling democratic communication between populations.

Everyone has the right to access the information they need to stay informed and engaged. The Internet is the primary way most of us connect and communicate. We must stand up against these corporate megalomaniacs and demand that a threat to free speech is a threat to democracy everywhere.