Net Neutrality, Just the Facts

The first amendment in the United States Constitution includes the right to freedom of speech. Some would argue that this isn’t so much of a law as it is a concept. Although the idea of free speech comes up in the discussion of many topics, today and in centuries past, it is closely intertwined with a more recent argument, net neutrality, which was recently repealed in the United States on December 14, 2017. We understand that there may be some confusion or uncertainty around this topic, so we decided to break down net neutrality a little further by defining what it is and what it may mean for your own internet use in the near-future:

1. What is net neutrality?

The dictionary defines net neutrality as “the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.” In layman’s terms, this means that all users have equal access to public internet uses and information. Net neutrality was put into effect during the second half of the Obama presidential era and addressed three areas of internet service providers (ISP). According to The New York Times, net neutrality prevented internet companies from limiting internet data speed (as long as the data was legal), blocking certain content from being accessed (as long as the content was legal), and users who paid more for internet would not be receiving information faster than users who didn’t pay as much (as long as the information was legal). This didn’t affect internet speeds that users were paying for, but more so prevented the possibility of an “internet fastlane”.

2. Who’s in favor of net neutrality?

According to Mental Floss, net neutrality is favored by technology companies while internet services tend to be against this. In this article, the writer states, that ISP “see net neutrality as unnecessary and burdensome regulation that will ultimately cost consumers in the end. Further, they have sometimes promoted the idea of creating ‘fast lanes’ for certain kinds of content as a category of innovation that is blocked by net neutrality rules.” Basically, internet companies are not charging as much as they could when net neutrality is in place. Like cable companies, ISP can charge for premium services to users who want data faster, but net neutrality prevents this from happening so that any user on the internet is equally receiving information.

Meanwhile, tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram claim that they achieved their success because of net neutrality. These sites thrive on internet-based platforms accessible to any persons and, therefore, the repeal of net neutrality could limit the access internet users have on these sites. Additionally, smaller businesses tend to be in favor of net neutrality over larger companies because small businesses may have to pay more to have their name put out there and visible to all internet users while larger companies are usually established and don’t have as much concern with visibility (and can afford to pay more for said visibility).

3. How will this affect us?

So, what’s going to happen? No one knows the future, so it’s difficult to say for certain. Some sources indicate that internet companies may charge for “bundles” or packages soon, meaning that in order to access certain facets of the internet, social media included, you may need to pay. Meanwhile, others argue that nothing will happen for a while. For example, large internet providers may pay off smaller, rival sites to gain more traffic in order to suppress competition. As of now, most large internet services, such as Comcast, have claimed that they will not block content or slow down content for users, even though the repeal means that they could. According to Comcast’s website on the issue: “Is Comcast creating Internet fast lanes? No, we’ve said consistently we’ve not entered into paid prioritization agreements and have no plans to do so.” Then again, they could.  

4. Pros

The pros and cons of net neutrality vary. Pros include the principle that small businesses could have accessibility to internet traffic as much as large companies. There is an even playing field with businesses putting out content online and no matter how large a company is, all businesses have equal access to enterprises. Similarly, internet users have equal access to public knowledge. Internet companies are not in competition and, thus, people with lower incomes are receiving the same information and speed of that information than people who could be in a position to pay more. With net neutrality, anyone can report illegal activities or content easily because each provider is looked at equally.

5. Cons

Downsides of net neutrality echo back to basic economics and capitalism. Data and information can be accessed without payment to the providers. Similarly, some internet users use more data than others and aren’t being charged for this. Without competition, ISP may not be recognized for their services. For example, Netflix and Hulu are arguably the most popular video streaming services and if an internet company provides a similar service, the repeal of net neutrality lets them highlight their services for their subscribers over Netflix and Hulu. Another con is that inappropriate content is less likely to be taken down because of the idea of equal access to all kinds of content.

Clearly, there is a lot of controversy and debate surrounding the issue of net neutrality. Companies desire their fair share of payment while internet users fear their service choices may be altered substantially. According to an article on The New York Times, Ajit Pai, the head of the Federal Communications Commission, assured that before net neutrality in 2015, the concerns of “fast lane” internet services (i.e. the idea that people paying more for their internet would receive information more quickly than users who didn’t pay as much) were not being put into effect.

So, what do you think of the recent repeal of net neutrality? Comment below.

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