What started off as a class project to get students to #think — the name of a special topics business class at Midwestern State University — is joining other protests around the country as five students are garnering support for net neutrality.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
Net neutrality rules were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015 to keep the internet open and fair.
The end of net neutrality will take effect April 23 after the FCC repealed the rules with the issuance of ‘Restoring Internet Freedom’ in December 2017, the order gives internet service providers the option to slow down websites, charge extra fees for content or block apps
The ruling to end net neutrality has pulled opposition from people all across the nation such as the website Battle for the Net and even late-night talk show host John Oliver’s plea to his viewers to comment on the FCC’s ruling which eventually led to the brief crash of the agency’s website.
Since early March, five students in a special topics business class at Midwestern State University have been walking around campus to get signatures on their petition in support of net neutrality.
As of April 18, the group has 518 signatures on their petition.
The class is described as a “passion project” by Dr. Niyati Kataria.
“I had several topics on my radar that I know are creating a huge stir in the business and economic arenas,” Kataria said. “Movements like millennials creating social entrepreneurship based companies, the alarming issues around lack of online privacy, implications of the repeal of net neutrality, other issues like emerging disruptive technologies and their effects on business.”
This spring semester is the first time Kataria has taught the class in her six years at MSU.
Rolando Diaz, Taylor McCreary, Joe Hankins, Elizabeth Chavarria and Graciela Ruiz are using their efforts as a way to start a social movement on campus on net neutrality as a graded challenge in their class.
“I was very passionate about this project from the beginning,” Diaz said. “I didn’t expect it to be so big, but we have started a movement on campus.”
Kataria is glad the students are passionate about the project and wants the students to be aware of what they are doing.
“I wanted them to research the pros and cons of repealing net neutrality so that they thoroughly understood for themselves what side of this issue they were on,” Kataria said. “My students and myself — not surprisingly — care about the ability to create new businesses.”
The new businesses referred to by Kataria are now staples in the history of the internet.
“Facebook would have never been the size it is if net neutrality was not the default back in the early days of the internet. MySpace had much deeper pockets back then and could have easily paid internet service providers to slow down any emerging competition,” Kataria said. “So if we didn’t have net neutrality, all of these new businesses that are adding to the American economy and keeping this country vibrant and strong would not have been possible.”
According to Diaz, the repeal is unfair for people like him who are still in business school.
“If you’re a bigger company, you’re going to be able to afford the fast lane, if I started a business it’s going be harder for me to compete with bigger companies,” Diaz said. “We’re going to struggle.”
Diaz added he feels ending net neutrality is a taking away freedoms.
“I don’t want our internet monopolized,” Diaz said. “Taking our freedom away from the internet doesn’t sit right with me. We honestly don’t know what is going to happen the uncertainty of it bothers me.”
McCreary agreed with Diaz on the stripping of freedoms.
“I don’t believe someone should be able to block my content or content that isn’t on their agenda,” McCreary said.
Since the internet is a large facet of life McCreary believes the repeal will have a greater impact on those her age and not lawmakers.
“[The internet] affects my life in more than one way,” McCreary said. “I think we’re going to be affected by it more than those in government because they’re not our age. They don’t understand how it’s going to affect new businesses and entrepreneurs.”
No matter how passionate the students are about net neutrality, they believe it’s their job to inform their peers.
“Our main goal from the beginning was to inform the student body,” McCreary said. “We aren’t trying to align anyone any certain way, we want this to be a nonpartisan issue. When we started, [net neutrality] had already been repealed, we just wanted to inform the student body.”
Finding students who knew about net neutrality was harder than the group expected.
“People didn’t know what net neutrality was when we went up to them and asked them,” Diaz said.
Now, the group is encouraging their peers to vote.
“By not voting you’re supporting an administration that doesn’t align with your views,” McCreary said. “If you’re not voting as a millennial then you’re not voting with what aligns with your future.”
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With the group’s encouragement to vote, they appealed to the Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana on why net neutrality matters and to show Midwestern State University cares. They want to garner the support of state and national leaders.
Diaz said Santellana was a good presence on campus.
“When we talked with the mayor, he understood our plan and he wanted to meet with us,” Diaz said. “Just having him on campus and for us to inform him about net neutrality, it was big.”
U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry, who represents the 13th District of Texas, says he is happy to see the group getting involved.
“I am always glad to see young people from our part of the country getting involved in what their government is doing,” Thornberry said. “Most of us believe in a free, open, and available Internet and agree that it should remain that way.”
Thornberry said Congress is also concerned about the issue of net neutrality.
“The Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice are working together to continue to review and prosecute violations of net neutrality,” Thornberry said. “It is possible that Congress will consider legislation in this area, but it will be imperative to ensure that any legislative proposal will keep the Internet as free, open, and transparent as possible.”
With the weight of net neutrality on states shoulder’s, KFDX reached out to state lawmakers.
“Regulation of the internet, as discussed in the debate on net neutrality, is clearly within the realm of interstate and international commerce. As such, it is within the purview of the federal government and policy must be decided in Washington, not Austin or other state capitals around the nation,” Texas’ 69th District Representative James Frank said. “Too often, the federal government tries to regulate matters that should rightly be left to the states. This is that rare occasion where it is the proper and constitutional role of Congress to set the rules.”
Frank also said he can not imagine how consumers could navigate multiple frameworks for using the internet and it would be “detrimental to all Americans for it to be handled in such a way.”
KFDX also reached out to 30th District State Senator Craig Estes for comment, but have not heard back as of April 23.