The FCC won’t let me be: Why net neutrality matters to nonprofits

Chances are you’ve heard rumblings about net neutrality — even more so than the usual din — in the last few weeks. A subject that crosses party lines, net neutrality is now being threatened in the United States by the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai.

Why does this matter for nonprofits? Because you, dear reader, use the internet. Read on for why you should care about net neutrality. 

First things first: What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) must offer complete and equal access to content without discrimination.

In 2015, this concept was codified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent government agency that oversees interstate communications (and, subsequently, the giants of telecommunications).

Cool story. But how does net neutrality benefit nonprofits?

This landmark ruling ensured that the internet would remain a level playing field for sharing ideas and inspiring change, thereby remaining a tool that continues to magnify the reach of individuals and organizations working for social good.

To understand the internet’s role in facilitating change, look no further than the impact of the #MeToo and the #IceBucketChallenge campaigns. These online social movements dominated the national conversation at no cost to their originators. In the case of the Ice Bucket Challenge, in fact, money was generated versus spent: Supporters raised over $115 million for the A. L. S. Association, which in turn funded research leading to the discovery of a new gene tied to the disease.

So what changed?

Ajit Pai, the new Chairman of the FCC, is now working to undo the agency’s ruling, repealing all measures that guarantee fair and equal treatment of internet content.

Pai argues that deregulation will increase investment in our telecommunications infrastructure. The cost to the consumer, however, cannot be ignored: Abandoning net neutrality would mean shifting control from the consumers to corporations — corporations that are obligated to maximize profits for shareholders.

ISPs have long advocated for a multi-tier system that would allow providers to offer content at different speeds in order to reach these financial goals. A two-tier system, for example, would create slow and fast lanes for content delivery. The speed at which an organization’s content is delivered would be contingent on their ability to pay for premium service.

Furthermore, abandoning net neutrality means service providers can block content or charge users for access to specific sites, potentially silencing emerging voices. Service providers have used these freedoms to manipulate organizations in the past, you may just not have known it was an issue of net neutrality. For example, during contract negotiations in 2013, Comcast dramatically decreased the download speed of Netflix until an agreement was reached.

Netflix download speed during comcast negotiations

Why this all matters

In New Zealand, users already live with the consequences of pay to play internet, effectively paying extra to use Facebook and other social platforms. Maintaining net neutrality in the US ensures that organizations are exempt from such treatment, regardless of budget or stance.

When digital content is delivered equitably, the process of search engine optimization and search engine marketing gives nonprofits equal footing with much larger organizations (be it a fellow nonprofit or a corporation) to compete for game-changing audiences. If search engine marketing teaches us anything, it’s that you don’t have to be rich. If ISPs can charge for top-tier service, however, organizations with limited resources (re: most nonprofits) will inevitably fall behind.

And if you don’t believe us, believe John Oliver, who covered this topic 3 years ago:

The FCC votes on net neutrality December 14.  Want to stand up for net neutrality? Our friends at Battle for the Net have resources for calling your local reps and making your voice heard.