OPINION: Net neutrality is vitally important to Internet users in Alaska
November 24th | Carey Restino
Today alone, I have probably visited 50-plus sites and used a dozen searches to put out this newspaper with some degree of accuracy. And every site I visited, every search I completed, and every rabbit hole I got sucked into in that process occurred without any filtering from the company who streams my internet service to my desk.
The free-flowing information found on the internet is an amazing thing. It's the single-greatest thing my generation has experienced. Right now, every single thing we want to view on every platform — from YouTube to Google searches to news sites to the incredible black hole of time that is Facebook — all stream to you at the same speed, regardless of how you get your Internet service. Like most great things, this is one of the wonderful freedoms that we don't even notice as something worth protecting.
But that freedom could be in trouble. The laws were beefed up in 2015 to mandate that internet service providers not mess with how fast web sites and services reach you. Essentially, under that ruling, broadband internet was deemed an essential service, like phones and electricity, and thus was appropriate to regulate to ensure equal access by all. Now, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, has announced he wants to repeal those rules.
So what does that mean? If a company, say Verizon, has its own search engine, it could slow down anything coming and going through Google to make its search engine more competitive. Or if it had its own application for, say, paying for internet services, it could interfere with the speed of Paypal access.
Like shopping on Amazon? What happens when an internet company launches its own shopping mecca and wants to make our source for Prime shipping that much more difficult.
And those are just the scenarios we can think of given the way net neutrality currently operates in our lives. But we all know the internet is becoming more and more interwoven in our lives. Without an unrestricted flow of information too and from our devices and computers, the value of the internet as a incredible tool for education, economic opportunity and entertainment will be deeply impacted. Large companies whose purpose is to make money, not provide a service that will benefit us all equally, will be given more control over our lives. So far, that hasn't worked out well for us. Right now, it's a level playing field, and the consumers are in the driver's seat. If these rules change, so does our control.
You will probably hear lots of details about this situation in the coming days, but few things are more important right now than educating yourself and having your voice heard if you disagree with this change. Luckily, there is a public comment period currently open on the proposed change. Ironically, the FCC has made it incredibly difficult to comment online - you have to go through a maze of pages to get to the spot to submit your comments. Also effective would be making your thoughts known to your federal representatives by giving them a call.
In Alaska, we are deeply dependent on the internet for everything we do — from communicating with the outside world, to buying items that are unavailable locally. If our access was restricted in any way, it would probably result in one thing: more money out of our pockets and into the pockets of big corporations in the Lower 48.
It is more important than ever to comment, as investigations are currently underway that anti-net neutrality comments have been created using the names of real Americans without their consent. Thus far, attempts to stop the spam activity have been met with little cooperation from the FCC, investigators say. The proposal comes before the FCC on Dec. 14, and is largely expected to be approved, despite the likelihood that legal battles will result. Take a moment or two off from watching videos of baby goats in sweaters and people clipping rubber snakes onto each other, and do something to protect all the internet goodness that is currently yours. Net neutrality has served us well. It's worth protecting.