Tech, Now + Beyond

Here’s why net neutrality and social justice are more connected than you think

The Internet needs to be affordable and accessible for all, not just the privileged.

Growing up, I used to browse the Internet pretty aimlessly. Give me a topic, and I would find myself on information binges, ending up in wormholes of pages to satisfy my curiosity.

I honestly thank those aimless bouts of curiosity for opening my eyes to injustice and social consciousness. Through the Internet I formed an understanding of my marginalized identities that I never learned in school. Through platforms like Angry Asian Man, Reappropriate and NBC Asian America, I came to a deeper understanding of my intersectional Asian American identity and that my community and communities of color are disenfranchised on the daily.

Although I acknowledge my privilege in having access to the Internet at such a young age, it is still one of my most invaluable tools. Everyone should have access to that tool, and net neutrality can make that happen.

Net neutrality is a simple principle: make the Internet free and open to everyone, and allow them to have access to the content and services they want. This sounds pretty reasonable, right?

Well, not according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC recently voted to begin rolling back Obama-era net neutrality regulations, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called a “bureaucratic straitjacket”. These regulations protected consumers who lacked options in internet service and assured that that all online content was treated equal by internet service providers (ISPs).

But if Pai’s plan comes to fruition, internet service will no longer be treated as a public utility.

Here’s the reality: not all communities have the same access to internet service, and treating it as anything other than a public utility would be disadvantageous. Underserved communities already disproportionately experience the digital divide, lagging behind in access to broadband internet because of its lack of availability and affordability for many.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 65% of African Americans, 58% of Hispanic Americans, and 10% of Native Americans had high-speed internet at home in 2016, compared to the 78% White Americans. The dramatic disparities between these communities are unjust, and treating all internet traffic the same is paramount to empowering these communities.

The Internet is an invaluable resource to everyone, and it shouldn’t be a utility of privilege, especially for those in underserved, low-income communities.

Fair and equal access to an array of information on the Internet is indispensable to democratic institutions. ISPs and the government shouldn’t limit or inhibit the choices you make online, and giving people varying levels of internet service hurts the people who need access to potentially empowering information the most.

Using the Internet is the main way we find and communicate information today, and barring reliable access to the Internet stifles justice work and the opportunity for diverse voices to have a platform.

I think about where I would be if I grew up without access to the Internet and the amount of educational opportunities I might have missed simply because the Internet is not a universal resource for all. I even think about The Tempest, and what if the diverse array of voices weren’t adequately heard simply because of harmful policies by the FCC?

The Internet can educate and empower, and oppressed people need fair access to it as an avenue for liberation. I look not only toward The Tempest in illustrating the dynamic issues and experiences of marginalized folks, but I also look to other powerful platforms Everyday Feminism, The Body Is Not An Apology, and Bitch Media as bastions of diverse narratives and resources to empower the disenfranchised.

The Internet is a tool to mobilize progressive change. The indispensable amount of stories, perspectives or information about and for marginalized folks are often on content platforms that don’t have the same financial might as corporate media companies, who can afford to send their content all over the Internet. Every voice deserves to be heard, and it shouldn’t be an issue of affordability.

As advocates for social justice, we need ensure that the Internet will continue to foster innovation and growth, as well as become faster and more affordable for all, not just the privileged.