Net Neutrality Is the Free Speech Fight of Our Generation

Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the internet. With net neutrality, internet service providers and government regulators must treat all data on the internet equally, without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Just as the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, net neutrality ensures a free and open internet for all.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to take away net neutrality. This action would give big cable companies control over what we see and do online.

In May, 13 Democratic senators urged the FCC to preserve its open internet rules. “This proposal will have profound impacts on the way we watch movies, listen to music, do homework, talk to family, consult with a doctor, pay bills and conduct business,” they wrote in an open letter. “Taking away net neutrality rules benefits no one except cable, telephone, and wireless broadband companies.”

Without net neutrality, telecom companies will be able to make internet toll roads. Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will be allowed to block access to websites, throttle (or slow down) internet speeds and provide fast lanes for internet service for extra fees. Censorship will become legal, and an open internet only will be for the wealthy.

Many communities already are disadvantaged when it comes to the internet. That’s because many rural Americans have inferior internet access, or none at all. According to a 2014 article in High Country News, “Of the 19 million Americans who lack broadband access — defined as 4 megabits per second (mbps) download speed, 1 mbps upload — 14.5 million live in rural areas,” and “[t]hirty percent of Indians living on reservations also lack access.”

Removing net neutrality rules would hurt underserved communities even more. Free Press explains:

The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial and social justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites.

The mainstream media have long misrepresented, ignored and harmed people of color. And thanks to systemic racism, economic inequality and runaway media consolidation, people of color own just a handful of broadcast stations. The lack of diverse ownership is a primary reason why the media have gotten away with criminalizing and otherwise stereotyping communities of color.

The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without Net Neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.

And without Net Neutrality, millions of small businesses owned by people of color wouldn’t be able to compete against larger corporations online, which would deepen economic disparities.

On Wednesday, July 12, over 70,000 websites and organizations are participating in a massive online protest against the FCC’s stance on net neutrality. This is the free speech fight of our generation. Now is the time to show that we, the people, have the power to save the internet.

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Photo credit: Backbone Campaign/Flickr

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