On June 11th, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led by chairman Ajit Pai, repealed its previous rules protecting net neutrality, effectively ending regulation in the United States.
Two years later, the decision is still controversial among hacktivist circles, human rights organizations, computer science experts, and citizens alike – especially during a time where internet media is playing a crucial role in distributing information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many critics have opposed the repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules and regulations, citing freedom of information exchange, human rights in the digital age, and standardization of accessible information.
In my opinion, the importance of net neutrality can be explored in two central questions:
Communication is a fundamental human right. In the 21st century, this necessitates being connected to the wealth of knowledge and information on the free internet. Restrictive access to the internet through ISP (internet service provider) “bundling” leads to society consuming whatever ISPs decide to provide access to via a buy-in process from content creators. It's evident and self-explanatory that this leads to an intellectual and creative monopoly.
The repeal of net neutrality led to a nullification of rules that once regulated broadband service as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. This meant that access to the Internet would be considered a common utility– like electricity – and would be subject to the broad power of the FCC. Following the repeal, practices like blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization would no longer be explicitly legally prohibited.
This essentially meant that free and open access to the Internet could now be infringed on by ISPs in order to profit. For example – dividing the Internet into “bundles” and selling them akin to television packages. To do this, ISPs used the argument that the Internet should be classified as an “information service”, and therefore not be regulated – as was provided in the FCC’s set of (now repealed) rules – like legacy phone companies/utilities.
But in the modern information age, it is inaccurate to not consider access to the digital sphere a necessary utility. Those on the Internet – nearly 4.5 billion people – have the capacity to exercise their freedom of expression as well as gather information and news from sources they prefer. In December 2003, the World Summit on the Information Society of the United Nations concluded that “everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization...Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate”.
And unfortunately, with the repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, ISPs cannot be trusted to uphold this opportunity out of good faith. ISPs have incentive to create “packages” to sell as they would profit through buy-ins from companies/content creators as well as the monopoly they hold. But restricting parts of the Internet in order to create these television-like bundles creates a financial factor.
The average person, with an average income, is likely to default to the basic “package(s)” or premium. Therefore, a society with mostly average persons will lead to the masses consuming whatever content the ISP promotes. The content itself would be influenced by profit incentives of ISPs – for example, what content providers pay more for their content to be featured – and would thus lead to an intellectual monopoly. In addition, practices like the blocking of lawful content, the throttling of transmitted data in order to encourage content the ISP pushes, and the paid prioritization of companies who “bought in” with ISPs would lead to this same intellectual and creative monopoly that restricts open access.
Individuals would be deprived of access to the creativity and innovation of the Internet as they would singularly consume content that has been curated as a result of profit incentives. As a society, we would not have open access to diverse media (ex. media from smaller companies/organizations), communication with diverse people (ex. those with unconventional beliefs that are often not profitable to promote), and thus would have an inhibition of diverse thought.
The Internet has shaped the general thinking of society since its conception. From pop culture to politics, the wealth of online services, social media, news, and more on the Web has influenced the masses across the world in good ways and bad. A relevant example includes Russian interference in the U.S. election through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Many have concluded that the discord sowed led to the election of Donald Trump, creating a concrete link between the Internet and its influence on the billions of people that regularly access it. A more recent example includes how loopholes in Facebook's policy paves the way for climate deniers to reach a wide and impressionable audience.
If concrete net neutrality law is not passed soon, ISPs will hold tremendous power over society; the content ISPs promote will be the plurality of what the average person in America consumes. For example, if an ISP lets a consumer stream Fox News (or another hyper-partisan outlet) for free but not MSNBC, or vice versa, this could have a tangible impact on the media the average person consumes, their subsequent political opinions, and the candidates they vote for. We can see the dangers of this in 2020, as hyper-partisan outlets like Fox News routinely spread misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, sow distrust in public health officials, all while idolizing the sitting president seeking reelection.
Restricted access by ISPs also means an inhibition of innovation. In “Net Neutrality Has Officially Been Repealed. Here’s How That Could Affect You” by Keith Collins, Collins mentions that these “pay-to-play” deals – where getting on ISP’s “packages” requires a buy in – could lead to small Internet businesses who cannot afford the buy-in unfairly failing and subsequent monopolization by larger companies. In Chairman Pai's opinion piece “How the FCC Can Save the Open Internet”, Pai remarks that “innovators everywhere used the Internet’s open platform to start companies that have transformed how billions of people live and work”. But Collins demonstrates that net neutrality itself is what sustains this “even playing field” allowing small businesses to rise, and keeping monopolization at a minimum.
Comcast Corp. v. F.C.C., the 2010 case that held that the FCC lacked the power to enforce net neutrality among ISPs, and the more recent repeal of net neutrality regulations have led to a grim future for the Internet. For the sake of a free, unfettered, and diverse society, it is imperative that we sign strong net neutrality legislation into actual, tangible law. Doing so will restore power back to the individual – rather than the corporation – hold ISPs legally accountable, and will allow the Internet to, in Ajit Pai’s own words, remain the “greatest free-market success story in history”.
Last night I had the privilege of attending California NOW's (National Organization of Women) Gender Equity awards show in Los Angeles as a winner of the annual Gender Equity Award.
NOW is a fantastic organization dedicated to the cultural, social, and economic advancement of young women across the United States. In the California state chapter, NOW is dedicated to empowering women across the state and electing more women leaders into office.
During the course of the night I was able to hear the stories of so many inspiring women dedicated to bridging gender gaps in all fields, from business, to entertainment, to politics, and technology.
CA NOW is doing some fantastic and much needed work - please donate to them here if you support their mission!
Stricter regulation, including large fines, is one option to force technology companies to take the issue of hate speech more seriously, the Mayor of London has said.
"We can't assume that tech companies will find the solutions by themselves," Sadiq Khan told the BBC.
He said companies have to be "chivvied and cajoled to take action".
On Monday, he will share examples of abuse he has personally received.
The messages will form part of his keynote speech at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas.
Read more here.
When Christine Betts arrived at the University of Washington in 2016, she planned to study economics. After an introductory computer-science course inspired her, she changed her mind.
Betts joins growing ranks of women at influential schools entering the software field. The numbers at some colleges offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise male-dominated industry. At Betts' school, as well as Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, women represent about a third of computer-science students. It's hardly gender parity, but the numbers are higher than they were five years ago.
Female enrollment at some other elite technical institutions is even more encouraging. This year, more women will graduate with computer-science degrees than men for the second time ever at Harvey Mudd College, a Southern California school whose alumni include creators of important web technologies like SQL, Flash and GitHub (all men). Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd, has led an effort to recruit more women and said doing so will improve technology for everyone.
Read more here.
Representation matters, and these people are ensuring the visibility of women in STEM by sharing their stories.
Chances are, if you’re asked to think of a name from STEM on the spot, that name will be a man’s. The history of women in STEM has not been given equal attention, and the same is true of the column inches, screen time and airwaves devoted to present-day innovators. But these authors, performers, creators and campaigners are making sure that women in STEM are not forgotten.
A spotlight special by Silicon Republic, this gem showcases 12 women in STEM making a difference. Give it a read!
Coding: It’s a language few of us are fluent in but all of us interact with daily. Enter Girls Who Code, a company determined to change this… starting with the ladies! Girls Who Code teaches girls the fundamental skills to code and encourages its students to take on the tech industry. It creates a community of women coders and tech professionals who inspire and mentor young girls as they choose their career paths. The tech industry has historically been male-dominated. Girls Who Code’s mission is to change that.
The most important thing on the topic of the internet right now – by far.
The so called “rise of the machines” has started, and it looks like obtaining citizenship is the first step. A robot named “Sophia” has made history, as it became the first ever to be granted a full Saudi Arabian citizenship. Developed by AI specialist David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, Sophia’s appointment was made public during the Future Investment Initiative held in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.
Recently, I was granted the wonderful opportunity to meet Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a sitting, Democratic Senator from North Dakota.
Senator Heitkamp is running for reelection in her home state, and passionately supports women's rights and technological innovation. The Senator recently helped pass a bill to "encourage technological innovation in carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) while also reducing carbon emissions"
Personally, I'm excited to keep pursuing avenues between politics and tech – it's amazing what you can do when you combine the innovation of the 21st-century with the will of the people.