Faculty member thinks ‘people will notice’ Net Neutrality Day of Action

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When nearly 200 websites, including heavyweights like Amazon, Netflix, Snapchat and Twitter, as well as those of individuals and start-up companies, combine for the Net Neutrality Day of Action on July 12, a Penn State expert expects people to notice the high-stakes awareness campaign.

“A variety of public interest groups and major corporations are joining forces to help people understand the importance of protecting current FCC rules that prevent providers from treating content and services differently by prioritizing or diminishing what people access online,” said Sascha Meinrath, the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. “I think people will notice.”

Meinrath is a renowned technology policy expert and is internationally recognized for his work over the past two decades as a community internet pioneer, social entrepreneur and angel investor. He was elected as an Ashoka Fellow for Social Entrepreneurship in 2012, and has been named to the Time Magazine “Tech 40” as one of the most influential figures in technology, to the “Top 100” in Newsweek’s Digital Power Index, and is a recipient of the Public Knowledge IP3 Award for excellence in public interest advocacy.

Meinrath said net neutrality is a simple concept that often gets muddled by telecommunications companies and those who have opposed Federal Communications Commission regulations that were implemented two years ago to ensure a free flow of information. Currently, the FCC prevents providers from controlling or limiting how information flows, but the current FCC is thinking about eliminating these consumer protections.

“One of the tactics employed by the teleco lobbyists is to claim that network neutrality is 'very complicated' or that there's no clarity of what it means,” he said. “Let’s demystify things a little bit: if you, the end user, are in control of what content and services you want to use, and the network is a neutral transport system for whatever data you request, that’s net neutrality. It’s simple!”

Meinrath was one of several experts marketplace.org asked to provide analogies about net neturality this week. He also co-authored a chapter titled “The Future of Digital Enfranchisement” in the forthcoming book, “Media Activism in the Digital Age” (2018, Rutledge).

Without FCC regulation, public interest advocates worry that telecommunications companies will charge fees for content or for preferential access. At the least, they believe those companies will limit or slow information. For example, Meinrath points to a 2014 dispute between Comcast and Netflix that corresponded with the former slowing the streaming abilities of the latter’s content. “As in that case, it was the end users who were unfairly punished,” Meinrath said.

While major companies have said they would treat content equally with or without FCC regulation, those driving the Day of Action believe otherwise, and point to countless historical precedents where that was not the case, said Meinrath.

So when people go online July 12 many websites will ask them to complete a brief petition asking legislators to maintain current FCC consumer protections. They’ll also find brief videos explaining the importance of net neutrality. It’s a concerted effort that no doubt will allow individual organizations to put entertaining, informative and personal twists on a unified message.

Meinrath is widely published in both academic and media outlets, including Critical Studies in Media Communications, International Journal of Communications, Journal of Communications Law and Policy, The Hill, Politico, Slate, The Guardian and many others.

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Last Updated July 13, 2017