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Students take deep dive into net neutrality issue

Filed in BCHS, District by on January 12, 2018

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Driven by a curiosity about the recent repeal by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of so-called net neutrality rules, members of Bethlehem Central High School’s Students for Peace and Survival (SPAS) Club landed an exclusive sit-down this week with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko to discuss the impact of the decision and what’s next for internet consumers.

Not surprisingly the meeting took place via the Internet — using the virtual meeting tool Google Hangouts — and was streamed live on Facebook by Congressman Tonko.

Club President Connor Chung narrated the conversation on behalf of Bethlehem students, relaying questions from students to Rosenwocel and Tonko during the 30-minute discussion.

The first question posed by students: What exactly does net neutrality mean?

“Net neutrality means you can go where you want and do what with your broadband provider getting in the way or making choices for you,” said Commissioner Rosenworcel. “Without it, your broadband provider has the right to block websites, to throttle online content and engage in pay-for-play prioritization schemes.

“Net neutrality is essential policy for internet openness,” she said.

Rosenworcel was one of only two commissioners on the five-member Federal Communications Commission to vote against rescinding net neutrality regulations in December 2017. She agreed to speak to the students after SPAS club members reached out to the FCC with concerns about the impact of the decision on students and other internet users.

Congressman Tonko, who represents the school district in Congress, is co-sponsoring a bill that would ensure net neutrality. When asked about the impact on students, Tonko told the group he was concerned that a lack of open internet access could present roadblocks for students who rely on connectivity for homework and to complete college applications.

Tonko also used the opportunity to thank the students for the invitation to speak and applaud the club for its tenacity in seeking out information on the unpopular decision by the FCC to end net neutrality.

“This is a great way for us to show respect to you, Connor, and your fellow students… to you as individuals and collectively, for caring so much,” said Tonko. “This is how our democracy grows. This is how our community strengthens.”

Students for Peace and Survival concentrates on raising student awareness on social issues with its guest speaker series and by helping both local and global communities. The club’s various fundraisers also collects funds for charities that fight poverty and hunger.

Asked by the BC students what happens next in the fight for net neutrality, Commissioner Rosenworcel said she sees several things that could impact her agency’s decision including legal challenges to the FCC vote, legislation at the state level that would supercede the federal decision, efforts in Congress like the bill sponsored by Tonko that could roll back the decision, or other long-term legislative solutions.

Like Tonko, Rosenworcel also showed her appreciation for the students’ leadership in educating their peers on the issue of net neutrality.

“Thank you for reaching out and keep on doing what you’re doing,” said Rosenworcel. “I think you’ll make a difference.”

The meeting was also featured in a story by the national online news source known as edscoop.