EGG HARBOR CITY — In Decem-ber, as the Federal Communications Commission prepared to vote on a repeal of net neutrality rules, the students at Cedar Creek High School were preparing to fight it.
Thomas Siman, 17, of Galloway Township, said he arranged for his digital media class to create a video to inform students about the issue and let them know how they could help.
“The main reason that I’m concerned about the repeal of net neutrality is it puts more power in the hands of big businesses like Comcast, Verizon, and it takes power away from the consumers,” Siman said. “It’s something that we all use every day.”
Of all the political issues that ignite debate across the country, the issue of net neutrality has managed to cross generational lines and draw interest from young people. Richard E. Howard, a research professor at the Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, said that is because young people are “digital natives.”
“They are building up their social connections in their daily dance of their social life by connecting through the web, through media, social media,” Howard said.
Net neutrality is a fairly new concept. Until 2015, there weren’t explicit rules on how internet companies should or could operate. The FCC, under then-President Barack Obama, implemented the rules to ensure an open and free internet. According to Rutgers, the rules barred broadband internet service providers from blocking or impairing paid consumers’ access to all lawful web destinations and banned “paid prioritization,” when a provider is paid to favor some internet traffic over other traffic by offering “fast lanes.”
The FCC’s reversal of those rules in December was touted as a vote to “restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years.”
Howard said repealing net neutrality rules doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact on the way internet is provided, but it puts it in limbo.
“It’s being talked about now, but where is it going to end up?” Howard said. “I don’t think anybody really has a sense of how it’s going to play out.”
Howard said that for younger people, many of whom rely on parents to pay for internet, there is the added complication of who will pay if the prices go up.
“When net neutrality is repealed, there is another way to charge for transporting content,” he said.
Students in high schools around the region are interested in the topic. Lower Cape May Regional High School teacher Steve Leadley said the topic has come up in his U.S. History I and II classes.
Leadley’s student Ella Seetoo-Ronk, 15, of Cape May, said she heard about the repeal of net neutrality through the news apps on her iPhone.
“I think this act will affect not only my family, but many middle- and lower-class families and individuals with the idea of the internet being split into two tiers of pay-to-use technology,” Seetoo-Ronk said. “The proposal that opulent households and companies can occupy the high-speed internet while lower-class families pay for a slower speed is miraculously unfair.”
She said she has discussed it with her family and signed a petition to stop the repeal.
The students in Cedar Creek High School teacher Chris Monroe’s digital video class have been discussing net neutrality and its impacts on society before the rules were repealed. Students said they are concerned corporations that provide internet services will try and slow down competitive services or charge a premium to use them.
“We’re all going to be paying for our own internet bill, and what’s happening now can really change the future,” said Abigail Heinz, 17, of Galloway Township.
Gianna Smith, 16, of Mullica Township, said she has signed petitions to reinstate net neutrality rules at Change.org and reached out to Congress, asking members to act.
“I remember before the vote happened, I asked my parents to call (U.S. Rep.) Frank LoBiondo, (R-2nd)” Smith said.
As media students, they have particular concerns about the way the lack of neutrality could impact small filmmakers or start-ups.
“It already costs a lot of money to make things in the first place,” Heinz said.
There is still a chance for Congress to restore net neutrality rules. Some legislators, including U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who vocally opposed the repeal, have signed on to a resolution to undo the FCC repeal.
Howard said that while there is still uncertainty, it is important to have this conversation on all levels.
“I think now more than ever, when there’s a lot of talk about our democracy being on shaky ground, we need to have people fully informed and openly discussing the issues that are important to us,” he said.