Net Neutrality: No 21st Century Democracy Without It

Net Neutrality: No 21st Century Democracy Without It

Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, appears all too ready to deliver the open internet on a silver platter to the highest bidders.

Editor’s note: Jasmine Banks is a Kairos Fellow at NARAL

We know that when corporations and industries control how people communicate, access information, and connect with one another, the potential for corruption, harm, and even violence increases. Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, appears all too ready to deliver the open internet on a silver platter to the highest bidders. If his proposal to overturn net neutrality protections adopted just two years ago succeeds, internet users may  be unable to engage in the kind of discourse that creates a robust democratic process and Pai will be well on the way to establishing himself as a lapdog for telecom giants like Verizon and Comcast.

When most of us think of 21st century democracy, the words “net neutrality” might not come to mind, but they should. In 2015, millions of people demanded that protections be put in place to protect internet users from opportunistic and predatory service  providers. The FCC answered with the “Open Internet Order,” otherwise known as net neutrality. Whatever you call it, the open internet is essential to the framework of any 21st century democracy.

Because of net neutrality, we are able to build a more just world through equal access, innovation, and freedom of speech online. A world without net neutrality is a world in which Comcast, Verizon, and other internet service providers would be able to censor our communications or create online fast lanes for the sites and services they would rather you frequent. As a result,  alternative and independent voices of Black, queer, and other communities may be relegated to the slow lane and go unheard by most internet users.

Net neutrality is the reason we are able to experience even a small measure of online content diversity, and a level of equality. Without net neutrality the feminist movement, Black liberation movements, and movements to protect our environment would have to pass through Big Telecom gatekeeping before they could  reach audiences with their messages and calls-to-action.

Strong open internet protections are an important foundation for action, and allow us to begin addressing other problems.  For example, algorithms often reflect the biases of their creators, usually white heterosexual men, and online harassment has made the internet often unsafe for vulnerable people. Still, any move toward accepting the recent proposals against net neutrality would make initiatives toward a more equitable and safe internet future that much more difficult. This recent proposal would default content curation to telecom giants which have already proven their bias against Black and Latinx communities, users with low socio-economic statuses, and the LGBTQ/GNC communities. Their proposal rips the open internet from the hands of we, the people and delivers it to telecom giants who seek to promote their bottom lines above diversity, access, and freedom.

There is no just future without net neutrality

The Center for Media Justice has released a coalition statement on the importance of net neutrality. The signing organizations made plain that if we, the people are to have a hand in shaping our social, economic, and political futures, net neutrality is required:

“Protecting net neutrality is crucial to ensuring that the internet remains a central driver of economic growth and opportunity, job creation, education, free expression, and civic organizing for everyone…The continuation of net neutrality is essential to the continued growth of the country and to ensuring access to social, political, and economic empowerment for all.”

The free and open internet is how we connect with one another every single day, and it’s proven to be a great equalizing force – giving marginalized communities platforms to speak for themselves.