The Pros and Cons of Net Neutrality

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The internet has become an important part of people’s lives. From email on our phones to streaming our favorite TV shows, we use the internet every day. The internet grew very fast and was difficult to regulate. It is often compared to the “wild west.” Since the internet grew so fast, it was very difficult to regulate and properly plan for its future. These problems have become part of the discussion on net neutrality. Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISP’s) and governments should treat all data on the internet equally, no matter who creates it. It also believes that companies shouldn’t be able to charge extra, slow down, or block certain internet traffic. It was put into law in 2015 to protect consumers, but was recently rolled back. Net neutrality is extremely popular with most Americans. However, there are some very good arguments against net neutrality. Let’s take a look at both sides of this important and heated debate.

One strong argument for net neutrality is that it creates an equal playing field. Under net neutrality, ISP’s have no say on what websites or content consumers have access to. As long as the content is legal, people and companies are free to post websites with any content they want. “There are controls in place for illegal activities, but companies like Comcast or AT&T wouldn’t be able to change how a customer’s data is delivered to them” (13 Pros and Cons of Net Neutrality). Without net neutrality, ISP’s would be able to block sites that promote ideas they don’t like. They could also block video or voice services because they use too much data or compete against services the ISP provides. An ISP could also set up cable tv like internet packages where you only get access to certain sites depending on what package you pay for. ISP’s would become the gatekeepers and censors of the internet.

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Another argument for net neutrality is that it keeps ISP’s from throttling the speeds to different websites. Throttling is the intentional slowing down or speeding up of an internet service by an ISP. “On Apr. 27, 2017, one day after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the plan to eliminate net neutrality, Comcast (the largest US ISP) removed it's pledge to not 'prioritize internet traffic or create paid fast lanes' from its corporate website” (Should Net Neutrality Be Restored? - Top 3 Pros and Cons). With net neutrality, all traffic is treated the same. Providers cannot intentionally slow down or speed up service to different websites. Without net neutrality, an ISP can throttle service to different websites. Many people enjoy watching Netflix and it creates a lot of traffic on the internet. An ISP like Comcast could slow down traffic to Netflix so people would not be able to stream it well. Comcast might also slow down service to Netflix, but speed up service to its own streaming sites like NBC. This would hurt a company like Netflix and give Comcast and NBC an unfair advantage.

A third argument for net neutrality is that it prevents ISP’s from giving preferential treatment to certain companies or services. Without net neutrality an ISP can offer large companies better and faster service and charge more for it. This hurts small businesses because they can’t afford to pay more for the same connection speed as a large company. It hurts consumers too. Large companies will pass on the additional connection costs to consumers causing price increases. It also prevents innovation because small companies would not be able to compete and would go out of business.

Net neutrality does have a few cons as well. ISP’s complain that people are only paying for the internet service and that no one is paying for the data that moves through the service. They believe people who use more data should pay more than people who use very little. With net neutrality, they cannot charge for the data. Streaming videos and making calls on the internet uses a lot of data that passes through the infrastructure created by the ISP’s. They believe they should be able to charge these companies that are creating all the traffic more.

Another con of net neutrality is that it makes it difficult for ISP’s to remove illegal, offensive, or dangerous content. Many people enjoy streaming their favorite shows online from sites like Netflix or HBO. However, a lot of traffic on the internet comes from people illegally streaming or downloading shows they haven’t paid for. They can also post stolen software or dangerous ideas online. ISP’s claim that removing net neutrality makes it easier for them to shut down these sites and stop the illegal traffic. The last con of net neutrality that is often sited is that it prevents ISP’s from investing in their internet infrastructure. “Between 2011 and 2015, when neutrality rules were being debated by the FCC, the mere threat of implementing them reduced ISPs investments in network upgrades by 20-30%, a $150-$200 billion reduction in investment” (Should Net Neutrality Be Restored? - Top 3 Pros and Cons). Because ISP’s are not allowed to charge extra for data or charge certain content customers more, they do not have enough money to invest in the building of their networks. This forces the ISP’s to charge consumers more in order to build and maintain the ISP’s network. This slows innovation and prevents them from expanding their service to rural areas.

As you can see, the issues of net neutrality are pretty complicated. It is a hotly debated topic with interesting points on both sides. While net neutrality law was put in place in 2015, the US government has begun repealing much of the law. This has led the internet to become increasingly less free in a country that fiercely tries to protect its other freedoms. The battle continues to rage on in the courts and won’t be going away anytime soon.

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