Internet Equity Is More Than Net Neutrality
Today, one-third of American households do not have the Internet access that they need; yet, millions of us are online arguing about Internet regulations. Why are we not rallying together to get American families online? I wish that policymakers, the media and the public at large would be as passionate and laser focused on working to solve the digital divide as they are debating FCC Net Neutrality regulations.
About Net Neutrality
One doesn’t have to look far to find a strongly worded commentary debating Net Neutrality. When it comes to this set of FCC regulations, it seems that nearly everyone has an opinion regarding the way we access our Netflix, Facebook, and beloved Amazon.
The Net Neutrality regulations are intended to ensure that all Internet subscribers have similar access to these, and other, web sites and content; but it is a complex issue that touches on many social, economic, and technical issues. When these regulations were adopted in 2015, some people were worried that a government bureaucracy was about to take over the Internet and ruin it. There also were questions as to whether the FCC had the authority to regulate Internet traffic (a question that is still being considered in the courts.)
Now, two years later, new FCC leadership is planning to loosen the Net Neutrality regulations and many Americans are troubled by this. They are concerned that they may be forced to pay more for access to websites, or worse, that they could be denied access to certain content.
If equitable access to the Internet is the issue on everyone’s mind, then shouldn’t we be talking about the millions of Americans today who are not online and cannot afford Internet access? For them, the debate over Net Neutrality is simply “not applicable”.
Picture a group of people at Disneyworld. Over lunch, they are discussing the pros and cons of the Fastpass system at the Disney Parks. If you are not familiar with this system, a Fastpass is a “special ticket” that allows you to go to the front of the line and generally lets you bypass 30-45 minutes of the dreaded waiting in line. Essentially, it makes you feel like a VIP, walking on the red carpet past all the people who do not have fast passes for that particular attraction. If you are not fortunate enough to have one of these Fastpasses and you are watching the people in the “VIP” line pass you, it can be an extremely frustrating situation. In this situation, over lunch, while on vacation at Disneyworld, it is a fine time to debate the existence of the Fastpass system. However, this is a very specific conversation. Not everyone can afford to go to Disneyworld.
In a similar manner, I think there should be a debate about the authority of the FCC to regulate the Internet, and the merits of that authority being exercised. After all, it is an important debate that does need attention. However, I am not comfortable with that debate robbing our attention from another important issue at hand: getting America online. This is an issue we should be fighting for, and an issue we should also be debating. How can we jump straight to the Net Neutrality debate when one third of American families do not even have Internet access? Not everyone is privy to the conversation! So, let’s do our part to make sure that everyone can join in the debate.
In no way am I suggesting that the Net Neutrality debate should not exist. But what I am saying, is maybe we channel more of our concern and energy into getting all Americans Internet access. For them, it is not about which websites they can access. It is about having access to any websites. Let’s get all fired up over fixing that, and then we can discuss the pros and cons of Net Neutrality.