A Threat to First Amendment Rights | Audrey Hsu

A Threat to First Amendment Rights

by Audrey Hsu

The American media tends to float around with great pointless billowing debates that are hotly contested. It’s a constant rotation, or perhaps more like an assembly line of topics on the table. One is brought up to the light of the harsh dim factory lights, weighed, scrutinized deeply, and then sorted into brightly labeled bins. And the workers—the people of America—hurriedly pick up the next item with absolutely no regards to the last. Something is constantly up on the belt, ready to be picked apart with excruciating detail. Today’s item up for inspection is net neutrality: a more behind-the-scenes sort of item that is still making its way onto feeds and screens. When I first heard the name, I filed it in in my mind under the drawer labeled "internet privacy rights", but I realized I didn’t actually know about the specifics when my friend asked me what the controversy was about.

To a certain extent, it could be classified as such, but it turns out net neutrality is far more complicated than the broad term internet privacy rights. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Gesundheit. More simply, it’s the rules that allow equal access to the internet. For example, a certain internet service provider (T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, etc) could make that addictive movie series you’ve been watching slow down to the point of a blank, black buffering screen. On the other hand, they could promote fast connection for another movie, or a company that favors them more.

How did this happen? Ajit Pai, head of the Federal Communications Commission, who was appointed by Trump in January, proposed the overturn of the Obama administration’s net neutrality legislation in late November. Supporters of repealing net neutrality say that light regulation of the internet is best for the internet to thrive and grow. Supporters of net neutrality argue that the public’s integrity should be preserved and that certain content should never be prioritized over others. On Thursday December 14, 2017, the FCC voted net neutrality down with a majority of 3 to 2. Since then, protests have been sprouting in New York over the country in favor of keeping net neutrality. Advocates for net neutrality hold signs displaying “Save the Internet!” or “Net Neutrality is Freedom of Speech!”

In answer to the protests, companies like Netflix, Google, Facebook, and Amazon hurried to state that they are in support of net neutrality. New York and California senators are working together to propose a bill in January that allows net neutrality regulations in New York and California. Net neutrality is "essential to our 21st century democracy, and we need to be sure that people can access websites and information freely and fairly,” California State Senator Scott Wiener announced. And other protests are happening online. I discovered a "Save the Internet" website that had been set up in a matter of days, complete with a donation page, a blog page, and other tabs explaining the importance of net neutrality and how it works. While there is nothing that the protests can currently do except arouse the nation’s curiosity and raise awareness, with such a strong public response, it is imminent that net neutrality will be making a well-justified appearance in the near future.