The Idea Of Net Neutrality

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The internet is one of the greatest things mankind has ever created. It allows everybody to access whatever information that they want to without any hesitation. Its ability to teach, connect, and provide for people is unprecedented. This is all thanks to something called net neutrality. Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers, or ISPs, should grant equal access to all information available on the internet. This means that ISPs such as Verizon, Comcast, or AT&T cannot regulate, block, or slow down what you want to view. Regardless of popularity or broadband usage, all sites are treated equally. In addition to all sites being treated fairly, customers are not charged extra for accessing certain websites or types of data. In the United State, the internet is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC. While there is no official bill regarding net neutrality, the FCC created six net neutrality principles in 2010. These principles essentially stopped ISPs from blocking or slowing down certain websites and allowed all sites to have equal accessibility from the consumer. Since 2010, these rules have been followed by ISPs, but they are beginning to lose ground ever since President Trump came into office. As president, Trump selected Ajit Pai, a staunch disputant of net neutrality as the chairman of the FCC who, as chairman, has begun to attempt to dismantle net neutrality rules. Although the vast majority of Americans are in favor of net neutrality, it is still a highly contested subject that concerns the government’s involvement with corporations. Net neutrality allows the internet to be the only place where everyone is truly equal, but finding the balance of power between consumer and provider is what makes it so highly contested.

As mentioned earlier, net neutrality is the principle that all information on the internet should be treated equally. Customers are paying their ISPs for internet access. They are not paying them to act as an information blockade that only allows what they want to be seen. Dismantling net neutrality would allow corporations like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, which are basically monopolies, to grant handpicked priority access to certain consumers or websites. Without a doubt, whoever would pay more, would most likely receive better access. If net neutrality were to go, some ISPs could charge certain content providers more. Essentially, whoever has the most money gets the best access. ISPs would be able to slow down whatever sites they want to, or even block them. Under old FCC rules, this would not be able to happen. All information on the internet would be provided equally for whatever consumer accessed it. Now that those rules have been abolished, an ISP would be able to limit what the consumer sees as long as they disclose it. While they do have to disclose the information on what sites they are throttling, this can just be a little asterisk in their terms and conditions and may go overlooked by the vast majority of users. Net neutrality only governs the availability of information that an ISP grants its consumers, it does not control internet speeds for customers that pay more money.

Like all things, net neutrality has its pros and cons. People are entitled to the internet without the ISP acting like a parent, monitoring and blocking what one can and can not see. Some opponents of net neutrality argue that there could be several negative effects on communications in the United States because of it.

While net neutrality may seem great on the surface, there are some negatives to it. According to ISPs, sites that use a lot of data like Netflix and YouTube (mostly transmitting video), slow down the speeds of all of the information being reached. Since everybody is charged the same amount regardless of the bandwidth that they are using, a large company, like Netflix that uses over 30% of the nation’s bandwidth does not have to pay more. This forces consumers to pay for the large upgrades in infrastructure so that companies like NetFlix can continue to stream. Instead of the company that uses all of the space paying, the people have to. Regardless if they use Netflix or not, all customers have to pay for it to be transmitted. Since they use more bandwidth, less information can be transported through the cable that they built. ISPs say that if they were to charge those sites more, they would have enough money to be able to build a new system that allowed this information to be transmitted quickly. This can be seen as unfair. Using less, but paying the same as another company that uses 10x the data may not be right at all.

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While there are some cons to net neutrality, there are also many positives to it. The internet was designed to make everybody equal. Everybody’s voices are heard, and everybody can see whatever they want to see. It follows the same format as the telecommunications system. Everybody can communicate with everybody else, regardless of your provider. People in favor of net neutrality argue that it helps small businesses get a foot in the door when it comes to the consumer. For example, if one were to search up flowers for sale, not only would they get the information of a large company, but they would also get the information of a local florist. If companies were to block the information of the local florist because a company like 1800flowers.com can afford to pay the ISPs more, then the local florist may lose business. In addition to small businesses receiving an even playing field with multi-billion dollar companies, these multi-billion dollar companies are also in favor of net neutrality. A company like NetFlix, which streams movies and uses the most bandwidth, can not be charged more by an ISP for using more space. By and large, everybody is a proponent of net neutrality except for the ISPs.

ISPs seem to be the only people against net neutrality. As a major competitor to Comcast, Netflix has experienced throttling by them. Before 2015, Comcast would slow the speeds of Netflix down unless they paid more to have their data transmitted faster. To speed one transmitter up, you have to slow another down. Small companies would not be able to keep up with the large corporations that can afford to pay for faster speeds. Furthermore, raising the prices does not guarantee faster transmission. ISPs claim that this newly earned revenue would go to improving their internet infrastructure. This may not be the case. There is nothing stopping ISPs from taking all of that money and distributing it amongst its shareholders. After all, they are monopolies. They can do almost anything they want to. With the dissolution of net neutrality, the internet may become like cable television. Providers can make their customers choose package plans, or pay for additional subscriptions to certain sites. It may also force sites that charge a subscription to raise their prices to continue making the profit that they once were. When it comes down to it, net neutrality is all about money.

The future of net neutrality is uncertain. Yes, Pai and the FCC have dismantled rules regarding net neutrality, but there hasn’t seemed to be much change yet. Even though the FCC has done away with the previous rules, ISPs have agreed to regulate themselves and will try not to regulate any services. If they do, they must report it. As of now, the internet has returned to how it was in 2015 before the FCC reclassifying the internet as a common carrier and ruling in favor of net neutrality. Most Democrats and Republicans are in favor of net neutrality. If they want to, they may be able to pass legislation implementing net neutrality. The FCC bureaucratic body can dissolve and create new rules. If Pai is replaced as chairman, then a new chairman may reestablish the rules on net neutrality implemented by Obama. Although unlikely, Pai may even change his mind and bring those rules back. There is no sure answer on whether or not net neutrality will disappear for good.

In conclusion, the idea of net neutrality is supported by the vast majority of Americans. It allows all websites to be accessed equally without regulation from the provider. While there are many good things about net neutrality, there are also some things that can be seen as unfair. If net neutrality were to go away forever, then the internet would no longer be the even playing field that it is today. 

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