ST. MARYS — On Dec. 14, in a 3-2 split vote, federal regulators chose to overturn Obama-era net neutrality rules, which required internet providers to treat all websites, large and small, equally.

The day after the decision was made, Nathan Caggiano came into Matt Frank’s honors English class at St. Marys Area High School with a poster tucked under his arm.

With a stony look on his face, he asked if he could borrow an easel and take the floor for the first moments of class.

Clad in a green Christmas T-shirt and a black bow tie, he placed the poster, which read “In Loving Memory of the Internet 1990-2017,” and gave a brief eulogy.

Caggiano would continue to do this for the rest of the day in every class teachers would allow him the floor. 

“What concerns me is that the FCC can undermine the spoken opinions of millions of citizens and not even take it into account,” said Caggiano of the decision.

Juniors like Caggiano were born around 2000, meaning they have never known life without the internet.

In talking to two groups of Mr. Frank’s juniors, they say their earliest experiences with the internet involved Webkinz, stuffed animals that have a playable online counterpart, as well as games – nearly all of which have some kind of social component. Some students even had Facebook accounts when they were as young as 8 years old.

Over time, the usage of the internet for iGen has evolved.

They sit in class with cell phones poised on the corner of their desk.

The internet is a cornerstone to not only daily social interaction, but to the flow of education.

Lexi Cunningham, a junior, said the possible implications of net neutrality make her nervous because at school students use the internet for everything.

“I don’t even remember the last time I wrote anything down because it’s all on the internet,” Cunningham said.

Students interact with teachers and get homework assignments online in a Google classroom.

Most don’t have physical textbooks. Those are online too.

Students take screenshots of notes and share them in online forums with one another.

The internet is also the place students go to research projects, get help with homework, and even to get bonus points to draw up their grades.

For these students who live in a rural landscape, the internet has also helped bridge the divide felt by other generations between urban counterparts. They are able to keep up with the same trends, fashion, entertainment, and news.

When asked how many hours they are online, without hesitation, the juniors say “all day.”

“It’s a necessity to function in society,” added student Finn Caskey. “It shouldn’t be controlled by corporations.”

For others, the idea of net neutrality hits home in a different way, like for Jenna Riddle, whose family owns a small business in St. Marys, Morning Glory Hill Greenhouse.

“Slowing down the internet is going to effect my family’s business and other small businesses. We use websites to get resources and also to reach out to customers,” Riddle said.

In an open forum discussion, Frank said, “For me, the whole net neutrality issue is about equal access to this wonderful thing. What, in theory, could happen is we lose that equality.”

And the concerns of these iGen students (and Frank) are not unfounded.

Diane Spradling, a lecturer in information sciences and technology at Penn State DuBois, explains that, in a nutshell, net neutrality provided internet users with a set of rules that went into effect in 2015, to prevent speed traps on the Internet, not permitting ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to dictate the speed of certain sites, and to promote a fair and open internet. It also prevented certain sites from being blocked.

It has been said by many, without net neutrality, consumers may experience cons such as companies (like Google, for example) being able to pay internet service providers to be the fastest search engine, in turn slowing down competitors. The same goes for potential favoritism of certain streams of content – from certain television shows to news feeds.

Another potential con seen by Spradling is that consumers may be charged more money to receive their content faster.

As for pros?

“Cable/satellite companies have been doing a similar thing for a long time. For example, one carrier may carry a network that another cable/satellite company does not. Cable companies can drop or add channels at their discretion,” Spradling said. “When and if that happens, the consumer market often drives the decision of those companies. Could this be the same with removing the net neutrality regulations?”

“It is too soon to tell what may or may not happen,” Spradling said.

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