Most of us, at one time or another, have experienced the frustration of being unable to connect to the Internet. With the prevalence of social media in particular, the Internet is such a central part of our lives that many would consider it an absolute necessity.
But how important is having Internet access, really? We can survive without being able to log onto Facebook or being able to Google search for snickerdoodle recipes. The world will continue to spin even if we aren’t able to shop online or binge-watch TV shows on Hulu.
As society continues to transition to being more technology-based, many jobs are beginning to require not only access to, but sufficient knowledge of the Internet. Considering the regular utilization by businesses of web-based programs such as Google Sheets to conduct daily operations, the ability to connect to the Internet is now considered a prerequisite for a growing number of companies. So, to answer the previously posed question—having internet access is very, very, very important, so much so that a federal appeals court recently ruled that high-speed Internet is a utility—not just a luxury.
This isn’t the first time the issue of regulating Internet providers has been up for debate. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) established net neutrality rules for various broadband services. Net neutrality basically means that Internet providers cannot reward certain companies with better Internet service just because those companies are able to pay for a faster connection.
The reasoning behind this decision? Because the internet is considered a basic utility, advocates argue that it should have regulations—just like telephone, gas, and water services. Internet providers weren’t so happy about this act of government intervention, so they sued, arguing that their private companies should be able to decide how to handle their services.
Last week, a federal appeals court upheld net neutrality rules, but Internet providers aren't backing down just yet. They plan to appeal to the decision, meaning this won’t be the last time we’re going to hear about this issue.
This ruling is a victory for consumers everywhere, especially those living in rural areas with limited access to the Internet. For example, in Kentucky, “one out of every four households does not have access to broadband services.” Competition isn’t as prevalent in these rural areas, which makes it easier for Internet providers to jack up prices; this can have a detrimental impact on people who have trouble affording expensive broadband services.
Consumers who are financially unable to access the Internet could face serious obstacles to being hired and/or maintaining a job in our increasingly technology-driven society; this is why the federal appeals court’s recent decision is so significant. Mary Newell, a member of the Rural Broadband Policy Group, further insisted that “it is critical that this communications tool that is absolutely essential to do business in the 21st century, that it be an open system.”
In the big picture, the Internet is relatively new. Twenty years ago, no one was arguing over whether or not rules and regulations should be applied to the Internet. The process of navigating these types of issues regarding the Internet is new to virtually everyone, which means there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way to establishing specific policies about the Internet. As our society continues to progress and technology begins to infiltrate even more sectors of our lives, it’s safe to assume that we can expect more debates of this nature to arise in the future.