Individuals gathered in Dayton’s Courthouse square on Feb. 3 to protest and discuss the current rollback of net neutrality. The Net Neutrality Rally was meant to be a stride towards the education of what the repeal of net neutrality could mean for others and how one should respond to these decisions in administration. The twist? Only 15 to 20 people showed up to have their voices heard, compared to the more successful Dayton’s Women’s March that took place only two weeks earlier.
During the polls, it was noted that more than 80 percent of voters disagreed with the idea of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealing the Net Neutrality Act, which is why the low numbers in attendance for the rally was incredibly unexpected. Corey Andon, organizer of the rally, noted that the low number may be in accordance with the delay in schedule, as the rally was previously scheduled for Jan. 27, but was rescheduled due to stormy weather conditions. The cold weather on Saturday was also one possible explanation for the lack of participants.
The rally began in the Courthouse, then later moved into the Dayton Metro Library for a roundtable discussion when others quickly realized the low attendance around 3:15 p.m. Despite low numbers, those in attendance discussed a variety of issues with the repeal of net neutrality.
Andon, a member of Dayton’s Socialist Alternative, commented the following when asked about the discussion on Saturday, “Through our discussion, we talked about how this repeal would target marginalized communities more than anything else. We also discussed, more than anything else, the importance of local officials to provide their residents with a public option to counter the attacks from big business and the FCC.”
The idea of a public option has taken root in Dayton as the city has already installed fiber optic cables throughout Montgomery County, paving the way for municipal broadband.
Municipal broadband allows for local government to provide broadband internet access, relinquishing the power to the city in regards to internet access. However, while a municipal broadband does offer local government more control, there is the issue of some cities not having that option and just falling to the wayside of the repeal, having no other option but to accept the repercussions.
Kelly Dillon, assistant professor in the communication department, shed light on the issue when asked how the repeal could potentially affect communication.
Dillon made it aware that she is very passionate about the issue, stating: “As neutral as I attempt to be on almost all issues I teach and discuss with students as an educator, I cannot, in good conscience, be neutral on the rollback of net neutrality… Net neutrality isn’t just something that affects individuals concerned about communication issues, or those of us who study mass communication topics. Anyone that intends to use the Internet for commerce, communication, social media, or sheer entertainment should be concerned about net neutrality.”
It has also been made clear that while the majority of voters were against the decision to repeal the Net Neutrality Act, several of the individuals lacked knowledge about the act and what the repercussions may be. Dillon was well-versed in the topic, offering insight into the issue, for those who have yet to complete a communication course.
The internet that many of us utilize in our day-to-day lives falls under the authority of the FCC. Net neutrality sets the basic rules of conduct that, as a user, your access to information on various sites will be neutral, despite what company provides the information or what you are looking for. This means that individuals from all backgrounds will have open access to information via the internet and will not be restricted. The Net Neutrality Act is in place to prohibit internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down, or blocking access altogether to content that could compete with your current Internet Service Provider.
Dillon noted in regards to net neutrality that “it is crucial for small businesses, it is crucial for education, marginalized communities like Appalachia and communities of color, and in general, fundamental to media literacy.”
Pew Research Center stated that 43 percent of Americans get their news from Internet sources. It is clear to see where problems may arise. If Internet Service Provider’s were to be aligned with one political party or ideology, as many are, users may not have access to alternative views or information. While one may think there are a large number of choices in ISPs, the reality is that there are a limited number of options.
“If we look at the internet alone, we’ve seen companies like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Spectrum essentially monopolize the entire industry. People are limited in many locations to only choosing one of these providers,” Andon said.
Portugal is a real-time example of the possible repercussions citizens may face with the repeal of net neutrality. Users in Portugal are charged a flat fee for access to the internet and pay additional fees for access to social media, Netflix and news sources. History in media literacy has proved that deregulation has lead to fewer choices in previous media markets, with the deregulation of internet access, it is very likely that this will lead to fewer choices of access – creating an internet that is cost prohibitive. This also means that those from poverty or those who lack opportunities may not be able to access these forms of information as not everyone can pay the costs associated with the site.
Of course, the decision to repeal net neutrality has already been made.
“Through the power of working people and mass movements, we could demand our elected officials to begin protecting working people in concrete and effective ways,” Andon said in response to the repeal.
There are always two sides to every story. In regards to what Americans should do regarding the repeal, two options came about from Dillon and Andon.
Andon, a strong advocate for mass movements, released the following statement on what Americans should do in regards to the recent rollback on net neutrality: “The first suggestion is to join an organization. Help build grassroots mass movements in order to take back control of our society. Show up to local city council and town hall meetings. Start demanding that public option for internet. But more importantly, we need to flood into the streets. Last year, when Donald Trump introduced his Muslim ban, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and shut down airports, intersections and entire city blocks in mass nonviolent civil disobedience, essentially pressuring the courts to halt the ban. We need to revitalize our movement and rely on the power of everyday working people of all backgrounds rather than simply putting our trust in electoral politics.”
Dillon released the following statement on what students, and all Americans can do following the decision to repeal net neutrality: “It is imperative that every American understand who their Congressional, Senate and local representatives are. If you are not sure, you can go to www.whoismyrepresentative.com and search by where you are registered to vote. Our elected officials must hear from us on issues that affect us every day, not just after decisions are made. I urge students of all ideologies and political affiliations to know their representatives’ contact information and contact them regularly. Informed citizens are good citizens.”
Despite one’s political stance, it is pivotal for students and Americans to stay educated on current issues and allow their voices to soar and echo among political discussion. Wherever one’s opinion may lie, staying educated and aware of the political atmosphere is a key aspect in understanding how these issues may affect Americans. Education leads to discussion, and discussion is a vital step towards action.