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Net neutrality protects the rights of all internet users

The Federal Communications Commission building in Washington.

The Federal Communications Commission building in Washington. Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

As a 21-year-old, I’m not going to pretend to know everything about net neutrality, but here’s what I do know: in 2016, nearly 287 million people, or 88.5 percent of the U.S. population, accessed the internet.

The internet isn’t a niche luxury, it’s a necessity. And for my generation in particular, it’s is a sacred place. Overall, 93 percent of my generation uses the internet, according to The Pew Research Center. It’s how we socialize and work, it’s how we gain information, and pretty soon, it’s the tool that will teach our students in schools — so why does the Trump administration want to make the internet harder to access?

On April 26, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, announced that the agency would begin its attempt to roll back net neutrality protections. Net neutrality, in the simplest of terms, is the idea that Internet Service Providers should allow free and open access to the internet without favouring any one person or company over another.

This isn’t the first time this year out-of-touch representatives have fumbled over the internet. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed a measure that rolls back data protection laws that stopped ISPs from selling our personal data. The Republican response to outrage over this breach of privacy? “Nobody’s got to use the Internet.”

That now-infamous utterance by Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner sums up my generation’s frustration with generations that didn’t grow up online. My social life, and much of my generation’s social lives, are online. We interact, play and experience life through our screens we use everyday.

A free and open internet that grants us access to all pathways the internet provides, is what created that experience. And access is key . Under the current net neutrality laws, ISPs are prohibited from delivering any website slower — or faster — than another. Without regulation, companies like Verizon, Time Warner and AT&T could create a “fast-lane” for their content, and restrict access to those who don’t play by their rules, like a startup company or a small political campaign that would rely on ISPs for online payroll, basic email services and website hosting.

A coalition of more than 800 startups sent a letter to Pai explaining their concerns that removing regulations would allow ISPs to discriminate against them for not being an established business.

Having access to a wide range of sites is what makes the internet important. For example, electronic check deposit and online banking have changed the ways American workers get paid and spend their money. Even larger than that, it’s how we make doctors appointments, reservations, travel accommodations, communicate with our relatives, meet up with friends, view maps, find jobs, date, shop, you name it. The internet is now used for everything.

Over the course of my lifetime, we will have to make the internet a right, rather than a luxury. When the only way to live is online, everyone must be present, not just those who pay to be there first.

Jager Robinson is an intern for Newsday’s Opinion section.