The issue of net neutrality represents a relevantly new technological controversy; although many might not be familiar with the idea of net neutrality (let alone the risks associated with ending it), it’s recently gained much attention from major news networks and television personalities. Net neutrality is a principle under what is referred to as the “Open Internet”. Under the Open Internet, according to the FCC:
“…consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what lawful content they want to access, create, or share with others. This openness promotes competition and enables investment and innovation. The Open Internet also makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to easily launch innovative applications and services, revolutionizing the way people communicate, participate, create, and do business” (FCC website).
Along with this idea, net neutrality mandates that Internet service providers (i.e. AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, etc.) and governments must treat all Internet data equally, and not discriminate based on user, content, site, or platform.
The following “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” video outlines the topic funny/somewhat sensationalist manner, though highlights the key issues at stake:
As Oliver points out, net neutrality is hugely important as “it’s why the Internet is a weirdly level playing field” (Oliver 2014). However, with new FCC proposals, this level playing field will no longer exist. Essentially, the FCC is endorsing new rules that would created a tiered system, allowing Internet providers to “charge tech companies to send content to consumers more quickly… at a cost a startup competitor might not be able to afford” (CBS). Allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer two speeds of service would allow only the biggest companies to buy their way into the “fast lane”. As stated by “Save the Internet” (an activist campaign supporting net neutrality), “Without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to block content and speech they don’t like, reject apps that compete with their own offerings, and prioritize Web traffic (reserving the fastest loading speeds for the highest bidders and sticking everyone else with the slowest).” Relating to complex societal issues of power, domination, and bias, this change would disproportionately affect minorities and women, as it is primarily white, affluent men who dominate this space and would therefore be able to dictate what they want to be readily available/easily accessible online. Clearly, this not only has the potential to impinge on the distribution of varied knowledge and opinions, but also can silence those who’ve historically been silenced and who utilize the Internet as a refuge. This is, quite obviously, problematic.
What’s most interesting about the issue of net neutrality, I believe, is that even big corporations – who would potentially benefit from these changes (including Google, Facebook, and over 100 other companies in Silicon Valley) – are in support of net neutrality and against these new proposals. However, the other side of this debate are cable companies with powerful lobbying efforts in Washington (NY Times video). This raises interesting questions regarding the motives of the ISPs, the perceived threat that is making even these large corporations reject the proposals, and the potentially major impact that the new FCC proposals would have on the Internet as we know it.
Though the FCC is now considering new hybrid regulatory approaches to net neutrality, and has been accepting public comment at fcc.gov/comments, no final decision has been made. Though there’s not a clear course of action in this situation, given the immense power that the ISPs and FCC have within this realm, I would personally (and I think the majority of the population would/does agree) advocate that the FCC mandate net neutrality, and eliminate the idea of a two-tiered system. This is necessary in order to maintain the diversity of speech online (particularly women and minority speech) and to allow room for startups to prosper. I would suggest that an appropriate solution would be for big corporations to continue to rally behind the net neutrality cause, along with average Internet users recognizing the importance of this issue and the potential effects it has on the Internet as we know it. Interested citizens can find more information and take action here.
“F.C.C. Considering Hybrid Regulatory Approach to Net Neutrality.” The New York Times. 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/01/technology/fcc-considering-hybrid-regulatory-approach-to-net-neutrality.html?_r=0.
“Google’s studied silence on net neutrality has finally broken.” The Washington Post. 10 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/09/10/googles-studied-silence-on-net-neutrality-has-finally-broken/.
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Net Neutrality (HBO).” YouTube, 01 June 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.
“Net Neutrality.” 2014. JPG file.
“Net Neutrality.” Save the Internet. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. http://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality.
“Open Internet.” FCC. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. http://www.fcc.gov/openinternet.
“What is Net Neutrality?” American Civil Liberties Union. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. https://www.aclu.org/net-neutrality.