On April 6, all of your lives changed. A federal appeals court in Washington D.C. ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to protect Internet users from profit-motivated corporate interference. The hearing involved the broadband company Comcast debating the FCC. Comcast made the argument that it should be allowed to slow or block Internet user traffic to various websites and software programs at their own discretion. Representatives for the FCC contended that the corporate firewalls Comcast supported were in violation of the first amendment and advocated for Internet neutrality. Unfortunately for Internet users across the nation, the judges sided with Comcast.
What does this mean for Americans? The decision essentially takes control of the Internet out of the people’s hands, and puts it in the hands of large corporations like Comcast and Verizon. These broadband companies may choose to act honorably with this newfound power, but considering their capitalistic tendencies, honorable activities are unlikely at best.
A much more likely scenario is that broadband companies will start re-routing, slowing, and even blocking Internet traffic. If a search engine (let’s say, Bing.com) offers Comcast a large sum of money, Comcast may agree to start re-routing all searches for Google.com to Bing.com. Google would become an inaccessible site for Comcast consumers. Google would not lose traffic based on bad service or lack of popularity; it would simply lose traffic because a competitor was paying off the broadband provider.
A similar situation could occur with news organizations. A broadband company could chose to invest in a certain news station (like Fox) and begin slowing access to other news websites (like CNN or NBC), in an effort to increase Fox’s visibility and bolster revenue. Americans would not be able to have a say in which news sites they can view and which ones are blocked. Inevitably, the news organization with the most money would prevail, leaving freedom of speech and press at its wayside.
This is not a problem that only affects pre-existing or highly competitive Internet sites. Individual Internet users are being targeted, too. Person-to-person file sharing is already at risk, as Comcast and other broadband companies have complained that legal file sharing takes up too much space on the network. If broadband companies continued to slow access to file-sharing services, then programmers would not be able to share software with each other, and community sites like YouTube could be charged incredibly large rent fees for taking up so much space on the network. If a site like YouTube could not afford to pay these fees, then it could be blocked from the network, or even go out of business.
Computer science and business majors at USF may be hit the hardest by the court’s decision because those students will face increasingly limited career options after graduation. If broadband companies choose to only give network space to the highest bidder, then students who wish to start their own business or create their own Internet content will not have the financial ability to do so. Companies like Google, who were created by individuals with no funding and benefited greatly from Internet freedom, have continuously advocated for Internet neutrality to protect consumers and innovators. Google and its cohorts, however, cannot fight this battle alone.
If every student at USF who appreciates freedom of information were to speak out against corporate ownership of the Internet, then our government officials and representatives would have to act on our behalf. I urge every one of you to consider the impact Internet deregulation will have on your life and to join the fight for Internet neutrality. .