July 11 was Net Neutrality Day.
If you didn’t hear about it, you’re not alone. When I asked a dozen friends how they were celebrating Net Neutrality Day, most did not know what I was talking about. Online friends simply messaged back with shrugging or “thinking man” emojis.
I couldn’t blame them. Most news coverage was focused on the White House and Russia.
This is not to suggest diminished importance in the fight for net neutrality, even if it doesn’t get the fanfare the day deserves.
It is to suggest, however, that every day should be Net Neutrality Day.
What Is Net Neutrality?
If you did hear about Net Neutrality Day, you probably heard the typical sound bite. Yes, it’s a battle for a free and open Internet. That really simplifies it until you consider the role a free internet plays in your daily life.
Net neutrality creates an open atmosphere, mostly devoid of government regulation. It creates similar benefits for users regardless of size and scope, profit or nonprofit status, individual consumer or mega business.
Everyone has the potential to flourish in an open online environment. If you’re Facebook, an online start-up at the Youngstown Business Incubator, or an 87-year-old grandma connecting with her grandkids via the free computer at the local library, you should have access to an open internet.
The term net neutrality was coined when the FCC started advocating for an open internet.
The first real fight came when the FCC prohibited companies like Verizon from blocking access to certain sites.
This all changed in 2014 and 2015 as telecomm companies fought the FCC to suspend some access-blocking rules. The FCC fought successfully to reclassify Verizon and others as “common carriers,” making their internet services the same as, say, telephone service.
Ultimately, what Verizon and others want is for you to pay for higher speeds. Want to use Netflix? Want to stream movies, music, games? Then you’ll have to pay more for higher speeds.
Of course, this violates the basic premise of a free and open Internet.
And to be sure, the FCC is changing its stance on net neutrality under the Trump administration.
Lauren Culbertson, public policy manager for Twitter, said, “Without the guiding principles of net neutrality, it is entirely possible Twitter would not have come from a somewhat quirky experimental 140-character SMS service to where we are today.”
Other social media giants echoed these sentiments.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbrg posted, “Net neutrality is the idea that the internet should be free and open for everyone. If a service provider can block you from seeing certain content or can make you pay extra for it, that hurts all of us, and we should have rules against it.”
To learn more about net neutrality, and how you can act, go to iadayofaction.org.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.