At Geeks Without Bounds, we are dedicated to ensuring people have access to the Internet and that communication flows unimpeded by financial, political, or other interests. In the past we’ve been active in helping communities connect to the Internet under cooperative, locally-controlled organizational structures. In the past our main concern has been about underserved communities and areas dealing with disaster, but right now the urgency to create cooperatively owned and run Internet services is greater than ever.
On December 14, 2017, the FCC is set to decide on whether to remove the common carrier classification for Internet service providers. If this happens, it will end net neutrality. Why is this important? It means that any portion of the internet can block and charge extra in order to access other parts of the internet.
This would mean an ISP could decide what websites and services you have access to over the Internet connection you have through them. They can create bundles just like Cable TV does, offering a basic internet package and charging extra anything outside of that. That package might not come with Twitter or Facebook. It might not come with access to any impartial news sources. I might not allow you to make calls over Signal or any encrypted communications channel, leading to a less secure internet and less privacy.
Imagine having to pay more in order to make secure connections! Imagine if your ISP didn’t allow you to use the best encryption methods at all! Or if they blocked all use of virtual private networks (VPNs). In the end, it could mean a very restricted “Internet” — if it could even be called that anymore for anyone but the most privileged and affluent of users.
If all this seems over-dramatic, just think back to what things were like before the current Net Neutrality rules were put into place. Do you remember how much slower Netflix used to be? In 2014 Netflix had to pay Comcast to get them to stop throttling their service to home users! What’s more, the federal government has flip-flopped on the issue of Net Neutrality more than once before.
In order to protect access to information, entertainment, education, and general communications into the future we MUST organize in our communities and build networks we control.
Geeks Without Bounds is already working with Digital Smoke Signals to bring community-owned and operated Internet services to Native American reservations. We are also working with local partners to build cooperative mesh networks in southern Washington state and on the peninsula. Each of these networks will be locally owned and operated, independently controlled by the people it serves while benefiting from a larger network of cooperative ISPs across the country.
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