In this day and age, it is close to impossible for anyone to get through life without using the internet. That reality is even more true here in Alaska, where larger distances separate us and we have less infrastructure to connect us.
In fact, I assume that you are probably reading my words right now via the internet. Alaskans need the internet to stay connected to one another, to stay informed, to conduct vital business and to communicate with people and businesses throughout the country and across the globe.
That demonstrates how important it is for us to keep the internet free and open. Imagine a world where an internet service provider (ISP) like GCI gets to decide which voices and opinions aren't heard, and which ones get amplified. Or which businesses or politicians get a leg up with better and faster internet service, and which ones get throttled. That is what the term "net neutrality" essentially means — to reinstate federal rules the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gutted in December that kept the internet free from corporate speed manipulation.
It is also why groups like the ACLU of Alaska see net neutrality as not just a consumer protection issue, but one of the foremost free speech and personal privacy issues of our time. Our constitutionally protected freedom of expression isn't worth much if the forums that we need and rely upon to express ourselves are not themselves free.
Americans agree. A mid-December poll published in The Hill showed that "83 percent (of Americans) favored keeping the FCC rules (net neutrality), including 75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of independents."
Here at home, GCI, which is our largest ISP, has told us that it won't engage in the kind of service manipulation that worries the majority of Americans. Yet, if you ask the folks who are working in Juneau right now, GCI has been making donations to key legislators, and their lobbyists are working overtime, to keep any pro-net neutrality bills, resolutions and executive actions bottled up.
They are promising us that they won't manipulate our access to the internet, but still want to keep the door open to do it once the current public outcry dies down.
Only weeks after the FCC gutted the existing net neutrality rules, another ISP that promised to support net neutrality, AT&T, took immediate advantage of its death by creating "sponsored content." Any sponsored content that is either owned or favored by AT&T will now get a leg up on the internet.
What can we do here in Alaska to ensure that everyone enjoys the same access to internet? While some have contended that protecting a free internet is too big an issue for Alaskans to affect, the truth is there is plenty that we can do right here and right now.
First, you can call in and testify in support of HB 277, sponsored by Rep. Scott Kawasaki, when the bill is heard in the House Labor and Commerce Committee on Monday, March 5, at 3:15 p.m. This bill would make it illegal for Alaska internet service providers to violate net neutrality.
While it's likely the federal government would assert jurisdiction over this type of regulation, thus effectively overruling the state law, Alaska policymakers have often called out D.C. decisions that they thought were harmful to us. With net neutrality demonstrating such broad bipartisan support, and the fact that the internet is so vital to our communication and commerce, shouldn't this be one of those times that we urge our policymakers to step up to protect us?
Second, you can contact Gov. Walker's office and encourage him to sign an executive order requiring all internet service providers receiving a state contract not to "block lawful content, throttle, impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, engage in paid prioritization, or unreasonably interfere or disadvantage the users' ability to select, access, and use broadband internet access service."
Given the size and purchasing power of state government in all its forms and agencies, this single action by the governor would effectively protect net neutrality in Alaska until the federal government comes to its senses. This also doesn't require Gov. Walker to go out on uncertain legal or political footing. Twenty-four state legislators have echoed our call for this, and a growing chorus of governors have issued similar executive orders to protect their citizens. Why wouldn't our governor do just as much to protect his?
Third, you can contact Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and tell them to vote for net neutrality. The latest vote counts out of the U.S. Senate indicate that there are 50 votes in the Senate in support of net neutrality. That means that just one more vote in support would ensure that net neutrality has the votes to pass. Unfortunately, at this point neither of Alaska's senators have indicated that they are among those 50 votes in support of net neutrality. Your voice could help sway one of them and thus swing the entire U.S. Senate.
The bottom line here is that the politics and the polls are clearly on the people's side on this issue. That is why there are so many conversations and so much current activity all over the country, and throughout all political levels and parties, as folks try to ensure that we all have equal access to the internet. By adding your voice to this debate in any of the ways outlined above, you can make a difference. Please — speak up and tell our political leaders how you want them to represent you.
You can also stay posted on this and many other privacy issues facing Alaskans at AlaskaPrivacyProject.com.
Donna Goldsmith is the president of the ACLU of Alaska and, like all Alaskans, relies heavily upon the internet to stay informed and participate in matters that are vital to her family and the community.