Back in 1994, I left a job I mostly disliked and went to grad school at Pacific University. I had taken a hard look at my life and tried to get a plan for what I wanted to do when I was a grown-up. It was a toss-up between law school and education and I ultimately picked teaching because I figured Mister Soandso would rather have me keep the hours of a teacher than of a lawyer.
Talk about living without a net. That decision, which I have never regretted, was terrifying. I was newly married and neither of us was making enough money to save for me to go to grad school. So leaving my full-time job to go into debt — to choose to live without any net — was one that took me a long while to feel comfortable making.
Zero income and $27,000 in debt with no safety net aside from a belief in the future. I still can’t believe I did it but I did, and like the saying goes, “it made all the difference.”
That summer, while immersed in textbooks and teaching pedagogy, I came across something that changed everything, something that made all the differences for me and ultimately everyone else.
He was working in IT for Pacific University at the time so we commuted together. I went down to the basement of Marsh Hall to collect Mister Soandso to head home for the night. He was sitting in front of a monitor and was typing away like mad.
“Hey, check this out.”
And within a few minutes I was communicating with someone at University of Minnesota. It wasn’t email yet, but it was the beginning of what we now know and probably can’t imagine living without.
“This is going to change everything,” I said to Mister Soandso. “This will be the next division between the haves and have-nots.”
My master’s thesis was heavily influenced by my first exposure to “The Information Super Highway” and every day I spent in the classroom as a teacher was impacted by who had access to the internet and all the ramifications of that access.
So why am I dusting off 20 year old memories?
Because net neutrality is likely to end for us, and who has access to the internet is really, absolutely, positively, terrifyingly going to divide us.
Last week, John Oliver did a segment on net neutrality (watch it here) and while it is hugely funny, it should also hugely terrify you if you are using the internet. (Obviously, you are since you are reading this blog on the internet. Well, I suppose you could be reading a printed document of it, but that is just beyond weird.)
I know a few of you are shrugging your shoulders and thinking, “whatever, this isn’t going to impact me.”
But you are wrong.
Very, very wrong.
If we allow the FCC to create a 2 tiered system, the internet is going to change. All of the regular folk who use the internet to watch cat videos, check Facebook, and post photos of their dinner to Instagram and Pinterest are going to have to pay in order to do that the way they have become accustomed to doing. And it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to know that this is going to hurt. It will be like Taco Bell in the 90s. Remember how they saved The Bell? They had dirt cheap food. 49 cents for a taco? Holy guacamole. We bellied up to that bar and became converts. And then the prices slowly started rising but we stayed at the bar because we like it there. And as the economy improved, we could afford to buy even the pricier items to go with those formerly cheap tacos.
And the same thing has happened in the telecom industry. Just open your cable bill and see it for yourself. Back when the economy was improving for many Americans, we didn’t mind those incremental increases in the things we thought we needed and the price we were willing to pay for them. We justified all over the place. In fact, many of us still do.
A two-tiered system is going to cost us. Perhaps you can justify paying a few more dollars every month to play Candy Crush or watch a movie without having to put on pants.
But what about all the other ways we use the internet?
It is woven into all parts of so many of our lives. We do our jobs with it, pay our bills, buy our groceries, watch movies, save documents, visit far away friends and relatives, and so on. The ‘Net has allowed us to both be better humans and worse. It is everywhere and touches everything.
And we expect it to be woven into other people’s lives in much the same way it is in our own.
Except that for that ever growing pool of people living in poverty, internet access is something the powers that be expect them to have, but they very well might not actually have outside of public schools, public libraries, etc. And both those places are not exactly rolling in cash.
But the telecom industry is.
So do us all a huge favor and go visit the FCC. Let them know you actually think net neutrality is a marvelous thing. In case you don’t feel like Googling that, you can just follow this link right HERE even. It’s issue 14-28, by the way.
And if you aren’t sure you can spare the few minutes of your day to email the FCC, just imagine living without the ‘Net.
It won’t be nearly as much fun or helpful or easy, will it?