Net Neutrality Student Activist Speaks Out

Sarah Hendricks shares her views on net neutrality and how others can stay informed about the topic

By: Rebeca Berger

Net neutrality, the ongoing debate about whether large corporations should be able to pay to have their messages and products reach Internet consumers faster than smaller companies, is one of the fastest growing heated discussions over the last decade.

And yet, still not many people are talking about it, or even know it’s a problem.

Even so, American University senior computer science and journalism double major, Sarah Hendricks, is taking a stand on this issue.

“I’m very much in favor of net neutrality,” Hendricks said.“The Internet itself originally was invented by a man who could’ve sold it for millions of dollars. But he didn’t. He gave it out for free for everyone and that sort of open source policy has been a big factor of the tech industry and of, really, the whole open source movement, which the Internet resides on.”

“Net neutrality keeps an open playing field for everyone who wants to use the Internet, as the Internet is a free and open resource. Trying to restrict that bandwidth so that only the big companies get the fastest stuff inherently means that the Internet is no longer free and open,” she said.

Over the last four years, Hendricks has advocated for net neutrality. Her goal is to spread information to students that are interested in this topic and to other computer science majors.

“The big thing is getting knowledge out there. A lot of people just sort of view the Internet as this abstract thing that they go on and they think it’s always been there and it’s always going to be the same,” Hendricks said. “It’s getting people to realize that lawmakers are trying to pass things that affect how the Internet works and the future that they’ll see with Internet. That is probably the most important because a lot of students do care about their internet usage but they don’t know what’s happening.”

Hendricks became interested in net neutrality after joining the computer science club on campus, which she is now president of. Many of the members, she said, were interested in social-justice topics related to computer science, and that’s how discussion of net neutrality first came about.

“There were people who studied [net neutrality] and followed all of the government debates that were happening around it and that’s what really started my interest in the topic, just being around those people and keeping up with the topic that way,” Hendricks said.

While Hendricks was attending high school in Boulder, Colo., news broke out about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property) Act (PIPA).

As a result, the big Internet sites went “dark” for the day because their people believed in net neutrality. Hendricks credits this event as opening her eyes to the topic and the AU Computer Science Club for furthering her interest.

Hendricks went on to talk about where the issue of net neutrality is today. The problem now, according to her, is that the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, is not in favor of net neutrality.

“Big surprise, he’s into big businesses and wants to keep the cash flow going that way, rather than keeping it a democratic place,” Hendricks said. “So, I have a feeling [we’ll see] a lot more of those kinds of protests like that happened with the SOPA and PIPA Acts.”

Hendricks thinks Internet bloggers, companies, and average consumers will start voicing their opinions more as their privileges become threatened.

“Netflix, you know, was once really tiny and didn’t do anything on the Internet. Facebook was tiny. MySpace, at one point, was really big but it was tiny. Everything starts small and you can’t just keep favoring the big guys,” she said.

Hendricks will be starting a job as a software engineer at Boeing upon graduation, after working there as an engineering intern. She is hoping to use her hybrid of studies to keep people informed about net neutrality and other happenings going on in the tech industry.

“I’ve been thinking about keeping a blog running about different tech opportunities and things that are happening,” she said. “I know there’s always newsrooms that are looking for data people to go over the huge databases that the government provides to look for stories and trends there.”

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