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Internet emergency

Julia Scott, Writer

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Our culture is steeped in the influence of the Internet. It’s in our homes, schools, and businesses.

So what happens if our relationship with the Internet and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is fundamentally changed? We may find out if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overturns “Net Neutrality.”

The FCC’s vote is set to take place Dec. 14 and will decide Americans’ future dynamic with the Internet and ISPs.

Net Neutrality is the policy that prevents ISPs from prioritizing traffic to particular sites over others, or charging more for faster access to a particular site.

“In other words, if you think of it as a highway, and there are three lanes, right now we all drive the maximum speed we’re allowed to drive, called the speed limit, whatever that is… That’s net neutrality, we all get to drive the same speed,” Alan Steel, BFA Director of Information Services, said.

However, without Net Neutrality, corporations have the right to change the speed of access for any site they choose. Or, to put it simply, the change would create “off-ramps” that affect the speed of access for users.

“When we come to an off-ramp, and let’s say that off-ramp is Comcast, they will allow let’s say NBC, because they own them, to drive in the fast lane. They change the speed. But the poor guy from, let’s say Netflix because we’re using that, he only gets to drive in the slow lane when he comes off at Comcast,” Steel said.

Without Net Neutrality, ISPs have the opportunity to manipulate their speeds to help profits while hurting the consumer.

“An example where that actually happened was AT&T, ㅡ this was 2012 ㅡ if you had an individual AT&T plan on your cell phone, FaceTime was working very poorly for you, it was very slow. If you had a share plan with AT&T it was working fine,” BFA Network Administrator Tom Hebert said.

This is not necessarily an isolated incident either. Other ISPs have taken advantage of lax policy before Net Neutrality.

“When Comcast was in negotiations with Netflix over how much Netflix would pay for their bandwidth, Netflix’s bandwidth for the month during negotiations inexplicably went down. When they signed their contract, it went right back up,” Hebert said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues Net Neutrality hurts economic growth and the free market.

“There are two sides to that argument. An ISP’s margins are considerably smaller than Google’s… [Google] makes all this money using the infrastructure the ISPs provide and the ISPs don’t get any more money for that and they can’t ask for more money for that under Net Neutrality rules. If the ISPs invest in expanding their infrastructure, say they build out to Bakersfield where it doesn’t exist, then Bakersfield would be a market for YouTube and the ISPs made that happen and don’t get anything back from that. It’s the argument they make, and it’s not entirely, 100% unjustified,” Hebert said.

However, ISPs are not entirely at the mercy of larger companies, after all:

“The ISP, they do get more customers when they do that … If they expand their service, they add quality of service, they add higher bandwidths, they charge more for that. When they expand their customer base, they actually make more money too,” Steel said.

Net Neutrality has allowed for smaller businesses and websites to prosper.

Removing Net Neutrality opens the door for ISPs to fast track websites that can afford to pay, while penalizing those that can’t. This means that startups with less funding may not be able to pay for the speed they need.

The issue is of such importance, that lawmakers for Vermont, as well as our elected representatives in Washington, have been involved.

“I held a meeting in Vermont of the Judiciary committee, just two years ago. …  I wanted them to hear what Net Neutrality means. We heard one very large company in Vermont say they wanted Net Neutrality because, even though they could pay extra, they started out as a very small corporation and they could have have been squeezed out by the large corporations. They never would have been able to be what they are and hire hundreds of Vermonters,” Senator Patrick Leahy said.

Leahy has consistently made his views on Net Neutrality clear and has worked to defend the policy since it’s 2015 proposal.

“[The] proposed ruling is perversely styled as ‘Restoring Internet Freedom,’ when in fact it would do the opposite.  It would allow Internet service providers to decide which websites will be privileged and which will be throttled or even blocked.  Make no mistake:  This will mean that the big firms that can afford the “fast lane” will be protected, while harming consumers, start-ups, and potentially even freedom of speech online,” Leahy said in a Congressional Record statement.

Leahy expressed concerns that the FCC was ignoring the public outcry in favor of Net Neutrality.

“They should file comments in there, but I am very worried that this FCC doesn’t listen to what people are saying. The current administration seems to ignore them and they seem to be stacking the deck for the giant corporations that have the deepest pockets.”

The FCC has claimed that more than a million comments submitted to the agency about Net Neutrality are nearly identical, suggesting they were computer generated.

Leahy echoes many who have expressed concerns that this accused “spam mail” will allow the FCC to disregard the people’s voice. According to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, an additional 50,000 citizen complaints have been lost from the FCC records.

“The Chairman of the FCC is saying ‘Well, the people are in favor of Net Neutrality are all saying the same thing,’ Of course they are! Because they all have the same concerns,” Leahy said.

The loss of Net Neutrality stands to hurt rural regions the most, in and out of Vermont.

“In rural areas it’s especially difficult because of distances. Your market may be out of Vermont, you’ve got to be able to use the internet there… Look at even libraries. Rural libraries are about the only place people can go sometimes to get information they want that’s online and you’re going to lock them out,” Leahy said.

Movements like “Battle for the Net” are helping individuals contact their legislators and encourage users to “break the Internet” with their arguments for Net Neutrality on Dec. 12.

Teenagers need to take action to protect Net Neutrality as the generation coming of age in the result of the ruling.

“For high school students, what if you go home tonight and your parents have to pay another ten dollars a month to get YouTube and your teacher just told you ‘could you watch this YouTube video?’ or Vimeo or whatever it happens to be. … That’s how it can actually affect right down into the home and the kids and even education,” Steel said.

Battle for the Net suggests actions like changing your relationship status on social media to “Married to the free and open Internet.”

To get involved, go to https://www.battleforthenet.com/ or take to social media to reach the FCC and make your opinion, as a member of the public, heard.

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