Editor's note: the opinions expressed below do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Beacon staff or supervisors.
On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission will hold a vote on a move to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
If you’ve been on the Internet at all within the past week and a half or so, you’ve probably heard the term. It’s honestly become a bit of a buzzword, and, as with many buzzwords, the meaning has been lost under the wave of hype.Here’s a quick primer: as of right now, the Internet is “free.” This means that Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast or AT&T can charge for better speed, but they can’t charge for access to any specific content on the Web. Internet customers can pay a higher fee if they want faster Internet, but they don’t need to pay an extra fee to access a particular website. Essentially, net neutrality means that ISPs can’t make it more difficult for their customers to access certain websites by placing them behind a paywall. Under the current regulations, you can access any website you want, whenever you want. Sure, it may take a half hour to load if you have a terrible Internet connection, but you can access it. Without net neutrality, ISPs could, in theory, charge an additional fee to access certain websites, in addition to the existing service fee. It’s similar to how cable providers (which, coincidentally, are many of the same companies that provide Internet service) charge extra for certain channels like HBO on top of their base cable charge. “Big deal,” you might say. “We put up with it with cable, we’ll just put up with it for Internet.” While you may think you’ve heard this all before, let me tell you why this is very, very different from what you’re used to, and a very, very big deal for Bethel students. Let’s start with the major difference between television and the Internet: information. Yes, television has information, but most of that information comes via channels that are included in most basic packages: NBC, Fox, CBS, et cetera. You don’t have to pay an extra fee to access this basic information. Sound familiar? The Internet is a vast repository of information, freely available to anyone with a computer and a connection. That’s wonderful. An informed public is an involved public. The Renaissance itself was known as a rebirth because the general public found interest in learning. If net neutrality is repealed, we may not get direct censorship, but it’ll be a lot harder to access that information. Information that, may I remind you, is currently free and accessible to everyone. And let’s not forget Bethel’s…let’s say questionable, at times, wi-fi. Without net neutrality, what’s to stop our ISP from charging Bethel more for access to some sites, especially those used for research! Where do you think those costs are going to end up? In your tuition bill, that’s where. But it goes beyond just cost. Some of my fondest memories from childhood come from going to the library with my family before we had multiple computers with Internet connections to play Webkinz. It was a blast, and it was an event whenever my mom announced that we were going to the library. My siblings and I could play together on the Internet! If net neutrality is repealed, we won’t have a guarantee that those moments will be able to happen anymore. Places that offer public Internet connections, like libraries, may choose the pay the extra fees to access your favorite websites. But they might not. This puts creators at risk, too. What good are sites like YouTube and Deviantart if no one wants to pay the extra fee to access them? Content creators thrive on the free distribution of content. There’s tons of wonderful free content available now. That could very well stop if net neutrality is repealed. It’s not a guarantee that information would be restricted if net neutrality were repealed, but why even take a step in that direction? It just sets a precedent for future restriction. All in all, a repeal of net neutrality doesn’t do a thing for consumers, but it does do a good deal to line the pockets of ISPs, which probably aren’t doing too bad as is. That’s why net neutrality is a big deal, and that’s why a repeal is a bad move. We have a voice. Sign petitions. Make calls. Keep pushing for a free Internet. Or you may find yourself with more than a few unwanted dollar signs in your face next time you log on.