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A Digital Divide

New York and Montana both enacted state laws requiring internet service providers uphold “net neutrality” on January 26, following the December 14 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to repeal the reclassification of the internet.

Technology and Culture Teacher Mariam Mathew believes that in addition to bringing people together, the main purpose of the internet is to “create a greater sense of democracy and more voice for the people.”

For Mathew, the repeal of net neutrality was a contradiction on the initial philosophy of the internet. “It was initially created as an open and free network,” she said. Mathew believes that the FCC vote against net neutrality was a “real loss of that ethos.”

Rohit Venuturupalli (’21) believes that the repeal of net neutrality commoditized the access to the internet. “It did kind of show how money is sort of taking over and how capitalistic intentions are growing stronger,” he said.

Effects of repeal

Should net neutrality be repealed, Venuturupalli believes that it will be difficult to advance in a digital world if there is limited access to technology and media. “If you take all of this free access away, it makes it so much harder for us to grow and make a step forward into this new future which depends on technology,” he said.

Venuturupalli also believes it would reduce the freedom of the internet for those who don’t want to pay for or can’t afford the prices that could be set. “It is very biased towards those who can pay more for faster internet, compared to those who are just stuck in the slow lane.”

Mathew believes that with the repeal of net neutrality, a digital divide would also become present. “If the U.S. doesn’t support net neutrality, the future will be greatly divided in what we have access to,” she said.  

Marcus DeHaan (’20) believes that as a result of losing free access to data, service providers are going to learn to manipulate data. “As this occurs, companies are going to learn what they can do,” he said. “They are going to throttle it for money and it is going to get worse and worse. Daily life is definitely going to get manipulated by this and if we can’t have free access to the information that technology holds, then it will be a real problem.”

Despite the concerns, Omar Ben-Gacem (’20) believes the end of net neutrality won’t be the end of the internet for all. “There should be a price because at the end of the day, someone has to get a cell tower up and provide you with the data,” he said. “But it shouldn’t  be something that only people with ridiculous amounts of money can afford.”

For DeHaan, his biggest fear is the potential for the government to censor and block the flow of controversial media. “Right now, there is no restriction, but if that was against the views of a governmental figure or a company, the material can be manipulated so that we can’t see that information,” he said.

Activism and looking forward

Mathew believes that constructive dialogue on net neutrality has spurred activism among the student body. “It is good to know that when these things happen, there is a way to foment people’s anger and a sense of injustice and get people active together.”

Despite the large turnout of people who have supported net neutrality through petitions, Mathew believes that raising awareness and fighting for the cause in person is the most impactful vehicle for change. “I think awareness is the biggest thing. [Issues like net neutrality] get to your screen quickly, so people know what is going on much more than they did before. The only problem is that [the public] think that that click is going to be enough for change,” she said. “In the end, a democratic government will have to hear the voices of the people, and if enough people rise up, change will happen.”

For DeHaan, taking action immediately on a pressing subject like net neutrality is imperative. “I think that it is quite important to fight for this because once we start going down the trail that we are on, we are going to go all the way down. So we need to stop this now,” he said.

Mathew believes that fighting for net neutrality can bring people together to promote an internet for all people. “Part of me that sees it as a positive situation, because people are awakened to what is going on,” she said “If you keep the internet free and open, people take it for granted.It’s a bit like what has happened in politics, where people have stopped taking it for granted when so much has been changing around them.”

Ben-Gacem understands that a key aspect of net neutrality is fighting for the ability to access free communication. “It depends on how you see it – you have to pay to call someone, but some people believe that on top of the amount you pay to get internet, you shouldn’t have to pay to communicate.”

Aligning with tech giants is something DeHaan believes is crucial in the fight for net neutrality. “I think we need to get big companies like Amazon, Google, Netflix, who are already supporting net neutrality to help us fight for it until it is secured.”

Mathew believes that the commonality of this issue among all Americans gives people a reason to unite for a cause. “My hopes are that we have a world that has not just 50% access to the internet, but a world that has 100% access,” she said, “that all people of the world have full rights to and equal access to information and to each other.”

As a follow-up, Staff Writer Jonathan Philips gives his opinion on net neutrality here:


Written by Cultures Editor Quinn Whitman


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