Net Neutrality – All Internet Traffic Should Be Treated Equally
Within the Federal Communications Commission, there's a new sheriff in town. Ajit Pai, yet another of Trump's new appointees, has made it clear that he'll be making a few changes. In regards to net neutrality, specifically, he is "more confident than ever," according to The Nation, that its "days are numbered."
Champions of net neutrality believe that governments and internet service providers should treat all information exchanged on the internet equally. The FCC currently operates under the Open Internet Order. The order contains several stipulations, but it primarily keeps internet service providers from controlling what information goes where, creating "fast-lanes"—internet sites that are prioritized by allocating greater bandwidth—or even blocking certain content.
Several countries operate today without neutral nets, primarily Russia, China, and North Korea. Somehow, U.S. Internet service providers base their arguments for a controlled net on faith in the free market. Companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon would love to repeal the Open Internet Order because they can use it to drive profits. If you can create fast lanes, you can sell that service too, so sites with enough cheese can make it faster and easier than ever to draw in visitors and clicks.
At best, net neutrality is a thorny issue. This article will serve as a net neutrality debate platform. Below, we will gather all arguments for net neutrality and voice their rebuttals as well.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Net neutrality provides for the free circulation of data and services.
Today, anyone can create a website for very little money and fill it with whatever they want. For a lucky few, their website provides information or services that the public generally likes. They share their website with friends and over social media, word catches on, they place some key advertisements with GoogleAds and elsewhere on the internet, they create some solid SEO content and, before long, they're rolling in internet gold and glory.
Striking down net neutrality will cut the fanfare short. Writing to Congress in 2005, Vice President of Google and inventor of the Internet Protocol, Vint Cerf argued that:
"The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control … a lightweight but enforceable neutrality rule is needed to ensure that the Internet continues to thrive. Telephone companies cannot tell consumers who they can call; network operators should not dictate what people can do online."
This kind of freedom that the anti-net neutrality crowd is after has not existed in any industry in the U.S. since the Gilded Age, when the likes of John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan exercised monopolistic control over their respective industries to keep the playing field stacked in their favor. Mark Fiore describes this with a Dr. Seuss-esque cartoon.
Many net neutrality activists would have you believe the internet is a green pasture of freedom in which information disseminates freely. This is not exactly true. Like Cerf said, innovation is welcome at any and all levels of the internet, and yet, in recent years, it has become dominated by single oligarchic rulers. Google is the main search engine, YouTube is the main video hosting platform, Amazon is the main retailer, Netflix is the main film and television hosting site. The list goes on. For almost any information or service you could want from the internet, one company usually dominates the field.
Net neutrality helps preserve democracy and free speech
With a neutral Internet, anyone can spread the information of anything. Democracy Now can provide their alternative liberal "War and Peace Report," and the Ku Klutz Klan can spread their racism and hatred. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota has spoken out about net neutrality, saying it is "the first amendment issue of our time."
With a controlled Internet, cable service providers would have the power to turn the Internet into a North Korean-esque media zone. They would have the power to become masters of propaganda, blocking any negative news concerning themselves or their interests and promoting whatever they would.
"With great power," says Peter Parker's Uncle Ben, "comes great responsibility." That doctrine stands up in the world of superheroes. In a world controlled by individuals responsible for the financial welfare of themselves and their companies, however, we have doubts about how responsible they will be.
Net neutrality does not technically have any impact on what you can say. It does affect who you can reach with said speech, but on the individual level, it has no bearing on the first amendment.
Response: It does concern freedom of the press.
In the U.S., the press—any media outlet—is also allocated freedom of speech. A controlled net would mean a controlled media. Internet service providers would even be able to block certain outlets if they found an excuse to do so, and that is certainly a violation of the first amendment.
Net neutrality maintains a free market and even playing field
Since the Progressive Era, the United States has not harbored a true capitalism. For some weird reason a laissez-faire market leads to massive wealth inequality, exploitation of lower class workers, and gives unbridled power to the super wealthy. While we haven't exactly succeeded in solving that problem, we have introduced regulations to help even the playing field and create conditions such that businesses of any size have an improved chance of getting off the ground.
Internet business is no different. Before any website loomed large, it was just a small, struggling startup. Remove net neutrality, and you will remove the even playing field that allows new companies to get a foothold.
Conservative lobbyists who would abolish net neutrality are quick to brand the Open Internet Order as a regulative measure. Regulation to conservatives is like sunlight to a vampire. Somehow, allowing huge internet service-providing corporations to exercise any kind of profit-seeking behavior they can come up with is better for business than giving new sites a chance to grow.
In a Forbes article titled "Net Neutrality Is a Bad Idea Supported by Poor Analogies," Jeffrey Dorfman writes "[Net neutrality] is a bad idea for the same reason that only having vanilla ice cream for sale is a bad idea: some people want, and are willing to pay for, something different." That would be a rich analogy, right?
Response: Broadband service is not ice cream and, categorically, it comes in one flavor anyway. What varies is its quantity. Conservatives who trumpet the anti-regulation cause have no ground to stand on. They do not argue for anti-regulation, they hope to take the power of regulation from the government and give it to the private corporations.
Innovation would slow.
In a world of controlled internet, if you have a great idea for a website, you can't just pay a small fee for a domain name and hosting service and get your digital career underway. You will have to tango with the internet service providers. You'll have to make sure your content won't offend them and, to make sure people can load your site in a timely fashion, you'll have to pay regular additional fees.
For many would-be bloggers, website developers or online service wizards, this means the difference between entrepreneurship and wage labor, taking control of your destiny and more of the same, your website's life and death.
Allowing the internet service providers to control web will significantly knock out much of the innovation that it has already produced. How many companies have met with success from the get-go? Some have, no doubt, but most have struggled and scratched out a meager living for years before becoming profitable. A controlled net will only make that process more difficult.
We don't know how much premium broadband preference will cost.
Response: No matter what, it won't be free. It will likely be significant no matter what.
Internet-goers will not tolerate slower connections
This argument is predominantly psychological. Once we have learned to accept a higher standard of quality out of some aspect of our lives, we will not stand to have that thing taken away. Nobody in their right mind, for example, would think of reversing civil rights victories like women's suffrage. It's the same with internet speeds.
Psychologists Shunmuga Krishnan and Ramesh Sitaraman published a study in 2012 concerning internet users behavior with fast and slow loading videos. They found that "viewers start to abandon a video if it takes more than two seconds to start up, with each incremental delay of one second resulting in a 5.8% increase of abandonment rate." If the video is interrupted, viewers will also tend to watch less of it.
If internet service providers begin slowing the rate at which videos and pages load, internet users will have to be committed to the subject to stick around. The more casual viewers will flock to the promoted fast-lane sites instead.
Studies can be massaged for results … and isn't that the point?
Net neutrality is required to preserve the existing structure of the internet.
Like Vince Cert, who maintained that the beauty of the internet lies in its ability to move the same amounts of information around at the same speed at all levels of the internet, many believe that the internet will cease to exist as we know it if a biased net takes over. This is what is known as the end-to-end principle.
The end-to-end principle allows the internet to expand infinitely. Because all data travels at the same speed and is treated the same, all aspects of the internet are open to innovation equally. Let's say that, for some reason, digital banking was prioritized by either the government or cable companies. This would then draw the most attention from internet users, it would be the fastest activity on the internet, and if would be innovators wished to get involved in the field, they would flock to some aspect of digital banking.
There is always a finite amount of broadband capability on planet Earth, and because digital banking was preferred, other facets of the internet would slow. Some believe that this would throw off the entire balance of the internet, and certain areas would become backwaters while others would draw the focus of everyone.
The end-to-end principle has proven an excellent quality in several American systems and institutions. It is present, for example, in our slightly regulated and hopefully even-fielded economy. In their 2000 essay "Open Access to Cable Modems," Mark Lemley and Laurence Lessig write:
[t]he principle of End-to-End is not unique to computer networks. It has important analogs in American constitutional law and in other legal contexts. Vis-A-vis the states, for example, the dormant commerce clause imposes an End-to-End design on the flow of commerce: No state is to exercise a control over the flow of commerce between states; and the kind of control that a state may exercise over commerce flowing into that state is severely limited. The "network" of interstate commerce is to be influenced at its ends-by the consumer and producer-and not by intermediary actors (states) who might interfere with this flow for their own political purposes. Vis-A-vis transportation generally, End-to-End is also how the principle of common carriage works. The carrier is not to exercise power to discriminate in the carriage. So long as the toll is paid, it must accept the carriage that it is offered. In both contexts, the aim is to keep the transportation layer of intercourse simple, so as to enable the multiplication of applications at the end.
Stripping away net neutrality is about more than allowing the cable companies to get bigger and richer. It's about maintaining values and consistency in our world.
This argument is more speculative, it is true. No one really knows what will happen if net neutrality falls.
What do you think?