For many students, net neutrality is an afterthought. But its effects, or lack thereof, impact us all more substantially than we think.
“Net neutrality is essentially the rules of the road for the internet, and it gives equal treatment to all internet traffic,” said Kyle Wrather, a PhD candidate at UT who specializes in net neutrality. Internet Service Providers are unable to give priority to content by sources, giving users equal access to information. Unfortunately, these things are no longer the case.”
From internet speed to increased website premiums, so much has changed in the online world since the repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules. Unfortunately, the changes are often rarely noticed or even understood by many UT students, who are generally more concerned with doing their online homework or using search engines to do research. However, net neutrality affects all UT students. Individual research into the topic is vital so students understand where they stand on the issue and can vote accordingly come November.
While students were once able to freely access all websites for research and homework, now college students across America are seeing their internet data speeds slow down due to heavy throttling by internet providers. Experts believe that premiums to access databases will continue to increase, which may lead to increases in tuition fees. These impacts can inhibit UT students from accessing reliable internet connection, as well as free research databases.
Legislation that supports the repealing of net neutrality rules argues that paid prioritization will mean more portals for investments that could lead to expanding broadband infrastructure, allowing for increased internet speeds. In reality, these policies have resulted in decreased internet access and data speeds across the online spectrum. However, this investment will come at the expense of not only UT students — but faculty as well — who now may have to pay extra to access reliable broadband networks that give their students quality classroom information.
“One of the key elements of the internet is that it provides immediate access to a huge range of high-quality resources that are really useful to teachers,” Wrather said. “But when carriers can choose to prioritize paid content over freely available content, teachers and what they can provide for their students (are) at risk.”
While the decision to repeal these Obama-era regulations came from the Federal Communications Commission, it has been consistently supported by a large portion of Washington Republicans. Chiefly among them are state and local politicians such as Senator Ted Cruz and Representatives Roger Williams, Mike McCaul and Lamar Smith.
Nearly 81 percent of Texas voters oppose these regulation rollbacks, and this number is likely even higher on a predominantly liberal campus like UT. Texas conservatives have been steadfastly opposed to regulations on large internet providers, arguing that companies should be allowed to charge customers higher prices to access certain websites. However, Cruz received tens of thousands of dollars during election years from AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, signaling that their decisions may not lie with the opinions of the majority, but with the checks made out to their personal bank accounts.
Cruz, McCaul, Williams and Smith will all be on the ballot in November, and their positions on this issue do not coincide with the majority of UT students, and may negatively impact all students. Students should take this into account when going to the ballot this November, and vote accordingly.
Students are most negatively impacted by these regulation rollbacks because we rely on accessing these websites daily in order to complete research and classwork. Politicians taking advantage of educational institutions must be universally opposed. When voting this November, UT students should know who stands with them, and who stands against them.
Johnson is a journalism freshman from San Francisco, California.