¡Viva the Internet!

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If they want the World Wide Web, they can pry it from our cold, dead fingers

Sean Stoker | Opinions Editor | @theroyalthey

The Internet is awesome. That much goes without saying. It connects, broadcasts, teaches, facilitates easy trade, entertains and so much more.

The current setup of the Internet is one of a meritocracy, meaning “the cream rises to the top.” If something on the Internet is well liked, people will reward it with likes, shares, purchases, downloads and any other verb-turned-noun. Sure, that means people get a lot of porn, comment section “flame wars” and about a trillion cat videos, but it comes with the territory.

But what if it wasn’t set up like that? What if the Internet functioned much like “the real world,” where the one with the most money gets to make the decisions and can manipulate the market for their own gain, the way cable companies wish it could be?

It’s a scary thought, and one that would keep me up at night if I wasn’t so exhausted from watching cat videos all day. But some people in business, the FCC and even congress are actually pushing for this.

To understand the problem, I’ll dive into some metaphorical territory. The metaphor I’ve seen used over and over is likening the Internet to a road system. Imagine that all the data moving through the Internet is like a car that drives from wherever it was stored all the way to your device.

Right now, Internet service providers have to treat all of these cars the same. The ISP has no say in what people view with their internet, so if someone tries to open up one of their competitor’s websites, or a site that doesn’t agree with their views, they can’t slow it down just because they don’t like it—the people’s Internet, the people’s choice.

This is called “Net Neutrality”. A boring name for something so important, but that’s an argument for another time.

The ISPs want to change the law so that they can set up speed bumps on these roads and only allow the cars they like, or cars they don’t like who pay a toll, to take the “fast lane” which is really just the speed that already available. But they cover this up by sugarcoating the issue. What the ISPs want people to think is “Hey, fast lane! I like the sound of that. I want my Internet to go faster, so sure, I’ll pay a monthly subscription to use this service. Do you take Visa?”

But they neglect to tell people about how this lane is only faster in comparison to the other lanes because they put roadblocks, thumbtacks, oil spills and complicated Wile E. Coyote-esque traps in the other lanes. Also the fast lanes lead right to their driveways.

Try being an entrepreneur, something the internet has made relatively easier than it was in the past. Now imagine that an ISP has a business deal with the entrepreneur’s competitors. Doing away with net neutrality, this would allow the ISP to discriminate against that new business, slowing it down because its success could threaten their profits.

Anyone who thinks they can be saved by changing ISPs might still be out of luck, because in many places in the United States, people only have one choice when it comes to ISPs. Unless a person wants to move to the polar paradise of Canada, one is pretty much up a creek.

That’s a lot of doom and gloom. It might seem that the plebeians are condemned to be crushed under the boot of the FCC and the ISPs. But hope is not yet lost, and the final decision has yet to be made, but it’s coming soon so people must act fast.

For more information and to see how to help, go to savetheinternet.com/what-can-i-do and keep the FCC’s grubby little hands off the Internet.