FCC ruling bad for Arkansas

Ezekiel mascuilli/The Arka Tech

Here at The Arka Tech, we are committed to keeping our readers informed. As journalists, it’s our job to provide accurate, unbiased information, and to allow the students, staff and faculty to make their own decisions based on that information. In light of this dedication, we chose to address an issue that impacts all of us: net neutrality.

Net neutrality refers to the unfettered access to information on the internet. On Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC repealed the 2015 net neutrality rules, which required internet providers to treat all websites, large and small, equally. This means that internet service providers and telecom companies can currently slow down or speed up access to websites, effectively controlling our access to information.

“Consumers might not feel the effects of this decision right away. But eventually they could begin to see packages and pricing schemes that would steer them toward some content over others,” according to Brian Fung in a Washington Post article. Companies like Netflix won’t disappear, but its availability from certain providers could change. Additional charges for those services are also likely.

“Tech startups may struggle to strike deals with providers and pay up to have their content delivered faster. That could fundamentally alter the future internet landscape,” according to Seth Fiegermann on CNN.

Twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia, have already filed lawsuits against the FCC as of print. On Monday, Jan. 29, the California State Senate passed a bill to impose restrictions on internet service providers, in direct defiance of the FCC’s repeal. The governors of New York and Montana have signed executive orders to enforce net neutrality, and several other states are considering it.

Arkansas is not one of the states involved in the lawsuit against the FCC. In fact, all of the internet service providers and telecom companies in the state have given their support to the FCC, as has Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. In the United States, Arkansas ranks forty-eighth in broadband connectivity; 30 percent of the population is underserved, according to broadbandnow.com.

On the surface, the FCC repeal doesn’t seem so bad. Proponents of ending net neutrality argue that it will encourage innovation (which is the same argument every business has used about capitalist deregulation practices for the last century or so). And innovation is the driving force behind technology. But ending net neutrality has created a place where people have to pay attention to what providers do now. What if the only access to news is provided by one national station? What if it’s only provided by local stations who have limited funding or motivation to report national and international news? In underserved states, like Arkansas, it’s possible that economically depressed areas, where there is demand but few resources, will not have any access, because it doesn’t make sense to service an area with so few customers. What if only those areas with access to sufficient funding are provided with access to all the internet offers, and other areas are only provided with what is deemed necessary? Moreover, the internet has become an invaluable tool for education. Although the poverty rate in the state is only 18 percent, in some counties that soars to 85 percent. The school districts in those counties already cannot afford the latest technology, much less an increase in internet access.

If access to information can be controlled by a corporation, whether for economic or moral reasons, or both, it is both censorship and discrimination. As journalists, we are fundamentally opposed to a corporation’s ability to decide what we are allowed to know or access. We know that there are dark corners of the internet, rife with information that is offensive, or damaging or outright wrong. We know that social media has given rise to fake journalism and disinformation campaigns. But it is our belief that everyone should be allowed to read or view articles and videos, and gifs, and memes and make up their own mind about what they believe. If a corporation can keep us from doing that, it is censorship. If a corporation withholds access from school districts, based on socioeconomic factors, it is discrimination.

Though the FCC has repealed net neutrality, there is still hope. Congress can stop the FCC with a Congressional Review Act. To achieve this, we only need one more vote in the senate. You can write to Congress from battleforthenet.com, or you can call 202-224-3121; this is the Capitol switchboard, just ask to speak with your local representative.