Whenever you open a google doc, check email, or binge Netflix, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) connects you and your device to the outside world. What makes the internet so amazing is that no matter what you are doing on it, your ISP is legally required to stream any and all content at the same speed. In many ways, this requirement is a great equalizer: no matter how much money you have, what service you are providing, or what content you are viewing, the internet is the same for everyone.
However, as of December 14th, net neutrality could be a thing of the past. On that date, the Federal Communication Commission, or FCC, will hold a vote to decide whether or not the internet falls under a “Title II Common Carrier.” Essentially, if the internet false under Title II, then ISPs have to continue to provide consistent, non-discriminatory service for everyone. If, however, the FCC decides that the internet does not fall under Title II, then cable companies would have free reign over the content that goes through their servers and net would no longer be free.
What, exactly would abolishing net neutrality mean?
First, ISPs could charge consumers extra or slow down certain websites. If, for example, Comcast wanted to advance its own streaming service, it could slow down Netflix and Hulu to drive consumers to its own platform. Alternatively, they could charge more for certain websites. Want to go onto Instagram? Well they could make you pay extra for that. Even something as simple and common as checking your email could now cost you extra money. Or ISPS could charge business more money for access to productivity tools, such as google drive, LinkedIn, stock markets, and other essential infrastructure.
Second, ISPs could simply block any website they wanted. Fox News recently ran a degrading article about AT&T? No problem. Any ISP could simply exercise unlimited censorship against anyone they want, essentially giving them immense political and social power.
Third, ISPs could charge companies themselves for faster services. For example, most internet companies rely on fast speeds to retain customers. If Hulu’s speed were half that of Netflix’s, then all of its customers will simply switch to Netflix. Netflix and Hulu would then be locked into a bidding war for high speed internet. And although you may not have much sympathy for media giants such as those, the same could be true for any company. A start up company that wants online sales? Better pay extra for faster internet. This could actually be the most damaging of all, as it would prevent small business from entering the marketplace.
Despite the many benefits of net neutrality, there are some valid reasons against it. Critics argue that it is an example of “heavy handed Government micro-management” of the economic market place, saying that companies have a right to change their service however they wish. This argument fails to take into account the complete control that only 3 companies have over the ISP market, essentially making it a monopoly. Hence, abolishing net neutrality would give even more (unwarranted) power to these companies. The effects for consumers and for business would be potentially disastrous, both personally and professionally.
Finally, net neutrality is not a partisan issue. The poll below, done by ISPs themselves, reveals that the majority of Americans support net neutrality. Despite the fact that only 18% of Americans oppose net neutrality, 265 congressmen (and Donald Trump) oppose it. The FCC will, very soon, be making a decision that Americans don’t want and will hurt them, and congress is doing almost nothing to stop them.
image source: wikipedia.com