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Net Neutrality: What It Is and Why It’s Important

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September 19, 2014

Net Neutrality. Two terms that have been popping up in debates on the Internet and elsewhere for a while, but I can almost guarantee that although you’ve heard the words before, you don’t know what they mean.

Allow me to clarify it for you.

John Oliver, on his HBO news re-cap Last Week Tonight cleared things up for me back in June after I watched his 13-minute video on the topic. Oliver’s exactly right when he points out that the reason net neutrality is being overlooked by the people it effects the most is because it’s being presented in a language that doesn’t engage them.

The term net neutrality is actually a good thing. In its most simplistic explanation it means that the Internet is neutral. It’s a level playing field that isn’t controlled by anyone and allows for the freedom and exchange of ideas for anyone with access to it.

Access. That’s a key word. Not everyone has access to the Internet in the same way that you reading this article does. In 2012, North America was ranked #1 in Internet penetration (number of people with access) with 78% of the population having access. Next in line was Australia with 67%, Europe with 61% and Latin America with 40%. Consider also the Middle East where only 36% of the population has access or Asia with 21%, and Africa with only 13%.

While understanding net neutrality we simultaneously have to be aware of the fact that our access in and of itself is still very much a privilege.

However on December 23, 2010 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that was established by the Communications Act of 1934 as an independent U.S. government agency and is directly responsible to Congress, released the Open Internet Order, which basically challenged the Internet’s current level of freedom.

The Order would implement prohibitions that would eliminate the Internet’s equality of data. That would instead allow for Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to be allowed to charge tech companies to send content to consumers more quickly.

It would result in the creation of Internet “fast and slow lanes.” Depending on how much you pay for your Internet connection would determine how fast content is delivered to you, or if you even receive it at all.

If you think of the creation of such lanes is absolutely ludicrous, then you wouldn’t be the only one. On May 15 the FCC opened a public comment forum that stayed open for 120 days and served as an outlet for people to express their opinions on why maintaining a free and open Internet is so important. 120 days later, 3.7 million comments had arrived.

Currently members of the FCC are answering questions from Congress regarding the regulation of the Internet. And that’s where a letter like this one addressed to FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel and signed by dozens of reproductive justice groups (including URGE) comes into place.

You might be asking what net neutrality has to do with reproductive justice and the answer is a whole hell of a lot. Most obviously we can start with this post, where are you accessing it from? The Internet. If you’re anything like me you probably have a whole list of news sources and blogs you follow all accessible through the Internet. Maybe you’ve received some sex education information from comprehensive sites that you wouldn’t have found through any other medium. You may need the Internet to find information on how to get an abortion or other critical healthcare that some deem controversial. The Internet has certainly taught you about different cultures as well, maybe even helped you learn a new language.

A lot more is at stake with the attack on net neutrality, a lot more than just the fear of slower Internet connections. It means the possible attack on a plethora of information that helps to give everyone, but especially young girls and women agency over their own education and health. It may feel like a hopeless situation one that you don’t have any control over. But the thing is, we do have control. The reason orders like this slip though is because the FCC thinks no one is paying attention.

Well you reading this however, is you paying attention. Stay informed. Stay up to date on the debate and don’t let net neutrality become a thing of the past simply because the FCC thinks no one is listening.

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