The Internet is a vast place where people from all walks of life can share their opinions, show off stupid tricks, and give us live daily updates on their pets (Farm Dog Mischa, included). There is literally a web-based community for every interest.
That hasn’t always played out to agriculture’s favor, because open access for everyone allows a platform even for those that want to demonize modern farming methods. But while it has given our adversaries a soapbox to stand on, it also gives farmers an unprecedented opportunity to reach consumers we would otherwise never connect with in regular life. It is unlikely I will ever have enough money to run television commercials during prime time shows like the HSUSes and EWGs of the world. But for comparatively little money I can create website and accounts on social media to spread my message far and wide.
Unfortunately, our ability to do that may change soon.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is pushing forward with plans to end so-called net neutrality, which was effectuated by the FCC in 2015. As justification, Pai is using rural America’s lack of access to high speed internet. About 39 percent of rural America, or 23 million people, have no options for broadband internet. Pai claims that abolishing net neutrality will spur investment and innovation into those areas.
So, what is net neutrality? I won’t pretend I can explain it as succinctly and humorously as John Oliver has, but let me give you a quick overview. Net neutrality is essentially the position that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like AT&T and Verizon, cannot give preferential treatment to certain websites, applications, and other things that use the internet. For example, AT&T cannot legally allow iPhone users to have faster internet speeds, while slowing down the speeds of those using Android devices. Or, Verizon cannot give internet speed preference to those using Verizon email, and slow down the speeds for those using other types of applications.
There is even the distinct possibility that these ISPs could start charging websites that want to make their content available to their internet subscribers. So, if you get your internet through AT&T, someone like AGDAILY would have to pay AT&T to make its website available to you. Some predict that ISPs could even “bundle” websites into packages, much like cable and satellite companies do for television, that users can purchase. The more websites you want to use, the more expensive package you have to buy.
Pai used to be a lawyer for Verizon, so I think we can safely make some assumptions about why he plans on destroying net neutrality. However, I get annoyed when people try to justify bad policy by equating it with supporting rural communities and farm families. It is a lot like Daylight Saving Time. My family hates adjusting the clocks as much as everyone else, yet I was bullied in elementary school because DST is obviously done for the benefit of farmers, or so we were told.
That is exactly how I think abolishing net neutrality will end up — we will excuse the inconvenience and cost because it helps rural populations, even though it actually hurts them the most.
Think about it. We’re lucky enough at our farm to have access to high speed internet, but only through one ISP. Without net neutrality, our ISP would have a completely unregulated monopoly on what content we’re able to access on the internet. Of course, that assumes that companies will want to pay our ISP to make sure we even have access. While the Facebooks and YouTubes of the world can afford to pay each ISP across the country for access to those internet users, smaller companies and websites will probably skip over rural ISPs because they won’t be getting as much exposure as they would in bigger cities.
On the flip side, a small blogger such as myself would never be able to pay all the of the ISPs in the country just so my content reaches my followers. The cost of “doing business” on the internet would go up exponentially and block out many of the independent writers, including those promoting agriculture. Unless we have big bucks to dish out to every Verizon, AT&T, and little ISP in the country, it will be lights out.
Pai’s response to many of these concerns has simply been that they are completely unfounded and not likely to happen. Except, ISPs were already doing these things, albeit on a smaller and sneakier scale, before the FCC put serious net neutrality laws into place. (For more on the history of net neutrality and how we ended up here, I suggest taking a look at this timeline.) More importantly, there is nothing about ending net neutrality that will encourage internet growth and infrastructure into rural areas that currently do not have it.
So, let’s be honest about who this actually benefits: big companies, big internet service providers, and big activist organizations. Contrary to the talking points, it actually hurts rural Americans and threatens to bring us costlier internet, slower speeds, and less access. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
Unfortunately, it looks like the FCC, through Pai, is determined to end net neutrality as early as next month. If that would be the case, this could be one of the last articles I get to write and promote on my current platforms. Please know that promoting agriculture has been something I truly, absolutely enjoy. I would miss connecting with my fellow rural Americans about this wonderful farming lifestyle.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.