They just want to watch some Orange is the New Black.
But, they can’t.
Earlier this month, my mom gave up trying to get through the second season’s first episode when it took her more than 30 minutes to get through five minutes of content.
“I told your dad to just cancel Netflix,” she said. “It’s not worth it.”
“Write your congressman,” I said. She laughed.
I explained I was serious. I tried to talk about Net Neutrality.
“I think the best way to for them to get the message is to cancel my service,” she said. “I don’t want the government in my Internet.”
But, it already is. In so many ways.
The arguments against Net Neutrality are mostly economic.
The arguments for Net Neutrality are people like my parents.
People who depend on a free and open Internet to participate in civic functions, gain access to information, and have shared cultural experiences. Yes, like Orange is the New Black.
My parents are the picture-perfect example of who will be hurt by the end of Net Neutrality. Put those adorable people in an oak frame.
The just got access to high-speed Internet from Verizon a few years ago. Because they are in a rural location, they cannot get cable or most other Internet options. Seriously, we had a party phone line until I was in eighth grade.
Verizon didn’t willingly bring fiber optics to my parents. They had to fight for it by proving that they and other neighbors in a certain range would be willing to pay for it. After the submission of the paperwork, Verizon took a year to actually get the wires to their houses.
That wasn’t the end of the fight, though. My mom spent the next few months fighting with Verizon about the plan. Verizon would tell her one price then put another on the bill. My mom’s a good consumer, though. (It’s one of the many, many things I admire about her.) She’s totally willing to put a fight by staying on hold for ages, writing letters, and writing emails.
Eventually she ended up with one of the higher price plans. She wanted to be able to Skype or FaceTime with her granddaughter. She wanted to watch Chow Ciao videos (she might leave my dad for that Fabio). She wanted to watch the Netflix shows I always talked up. Verizon sold her that only the best plan would do.
Now, though the best plan doesn’t do.
Because of their slow Internet service, they’ll lose access to more than Piper’s adventures in Litchfield. For them, Internet access means access to consumer information, civic information, news and culture. My mom researches her consumer choices endlessly online before making a purchase. She’s been able to procure day lilies that make her the talk of the town. She’s talked with her grandkids – all on services that would likely end up victims of Verizon’s bullying if Net Neutrality isn’t enforced.
I’m writing to say that I as an academic researcher who has talked about these things in a sociological space, I know the theory-based and institutional reasons Net Neutrality is important to the continued growth of American economy and thought. But, people like my parents are the reason Net Neutrality is so salient to me.
And, it’s the reason I hope that a free and open Internet is preserved.
I’m asking the FCC to fight for, construct policies, and enforce a ban on so-called fast lanes for content providers. Because it will really be fast lanes for content providers who can pay for them. And, those content providers will then be at the mercy of a few Internet service providers (even fewer if the Comcast/Time Warner merger is permitted)
I’m also asking for Internet service to be reclassified from its current Title II carrier to a utility classification that recognizes the importance of Internet as an open road for all because of its democratization and consumerist properties – properties that certainly aren’t true of cable to the same magnitude.