With the formulation of the internet almost 30 plus years ago, not many people would have predicted how much it influences our everyday lives. The number of things we can accomplish by a click of a mouse or a tap on a screen is growing rapidly. With the growth of our reliance on the internet, there are many ways to make money in the industry of content providers or internet service providers. The original internet had very little restrictions or regulations to it, but those times have changed.
The age of free internet has died. The regulation of the internet has been a long-lasting debate on whether or not internet service providers are able to treat different internet traffic individually based on things like content or specific websites. By privileging certain content over another, the internet will begin to be over-regulated and split up based on what the consumer pays for. With less and less options for internet in most areas, the monopolies big companies have on options to stay connected, ends up negatively affecting consumers. With many states immediately enacting laws to protect its residents, the F.C.C. and the Department of Justice have already started to take action to get rid of those laws. With the repeal of net neutrality laws in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission, states choosing to adopt their own net neutrality laws are vital to leading the country back in the direction of a free internet.
Those for Net Neutrality are internet content providers like Netflix, Facebook and YouTube and the majority of consumers in the United States, as all internet traffic is treated the same. Those against Net Neutrality are cable companies and large companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. These internet provider moguls see Net Neutrality as a way to profit on consumer internet habits, as well as profit off companies who want quicker internet speeds for their products. In a nation where in 2016, 88% of adults accessed the internet, the time for a free internet could not be more than now. Without states pushing their own laws on net neutrality forward, the F.C.C.’s recent decision to repeal net neutrality change free internet forever.
The argument about net neutrality started in 2015, when President Barack Obama’s democratic controlled F.C.C. voted 3-2 to install nationwide regulations requiring internet service providers to guarantee equal access to the internet. This allowed consumers to have net neutrality, or a free internet that isn’t regulated based on content or how it is used. The previous federally instated law did not directly address specifics within the laws passed that have now been noted and changed in the recent repeal of the regulation. In 2017 when the regulation was revoked it essentially allowed internet service providers to throttle internet and allow different types of speeds for different content or things on the internet. Governors in six states—Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont—have signed executive orders. Three states—Oregon, Vermont, and Washington—enacted net neutrality legislation.
These states are leading the way for the country to figure out a plan for the internet once and for all. While many of these states are facing opposition and legal action from the Department of Justice and the Trump administration, their fighting back against the F.C.C.’s regulations are vital to keeping a free internet. Broadband companies have strong corporate influence into current decisions and help push these legal actions that occur, while many people feel helpless without a say as they use their big-name internet service provider. Maplight research reported that from 2008 to 2017, Comcast, AT&T, National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Verizon have contributed over $572 million dollars in an attempt to influence both government agencies and the F.C.C. This massive pull-power that these companies have is not going away and continues to grow, just like their wallets. The two sides of this debate have strong arguments on how they believe it is in the best interest of the nation.
Those in favor of a free internet with net neutrality are battling against the recent bill passed. The makeup of those who are in favor of net neutrality are large websites media companies like YouTube, Facebook, eBay and other companies that rely on users and content based on the web. Without net neutrality, companies could charge users more for accessing these sites or throttle the speed in which you could access them. For instance, if your internet service provider is not a fan of Netflix or is an affiliate to another streaming service, it could offer slower speeds unless you pay more for that specific website. It is situations like this that leads many consumers against net neutrality as it will raise the cost of having many of these services in addition to having an internet bill. Originally internet service providers were treated as common carriers.
Common carriers is a term used for a service of item that is supplied to a customer and nothing else, such as telephone companies. If internet service providers were treated as such, there would not be a way they could alter how you use the internet service – they could only provide the service. Without your phone provider being considered a common carrier it could regulate who you could call, or how quickly you would be able to receive text messages or voicemails. This same fear is what is possible with the F.C.C.’s most recent bill when it comes to how the internet can be regulated.
Another side to the argument in favor of net neutrality is that it fuels innovation. Without access to a free internet where all websites and apps are treated equally and can be accessed at the same speeds, it allows for smaller companies to still thrive and create business online. If net neutrality did not exist before everyone may still be connected on MySpace instead of all the new platforms we have today. Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future speaks to the importance of these current events when it comes to the internet, “We have an opportunity to show the entire world which elected officials are willing to fight for net neutrality, and which ones decide to sit on their hands and let big telecom companies take control over what we can see and do on the internet”. With all these reasons to keep net neutrality, there are opposing sides to many of these arguments.
Those in not in favor of a free internet and net neutrality are mainly made up of large internet service providers and other branches of the government. Broadband companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon all oppose net neutrality and are fighting for the ability to keep regulating the internet as well as the F.C.C.’s chairman Ajit Pai. Many of these large broadband investors fear that without regulation of the internet they will be unable to recoup their investments into the business of broadband, and it will make internet service providers overly competitive which could hurt the consumer. With more regulation they argue that customers will be given more options that fit each individual household with internet access customer to the user. Some also believe that there is already so much of a monopoly that exists today when it comes to options with internet service providers, that regulation is the only thing left to do to control major companies.
This makes more of a network inequality among consumers who don’t have access to many providers. The final main argument for getting rid of net neutrality is the allocation and ranking of importance of internet data when systems become purged with too much information, or traffic management. When this happens, something will end up being delayed or slowed down, non-net neutrality supporters want to control what is slowed down. For example, “When choosing what gets delayed, it makes sense to allow a network to favor traffic from, say, a patient’s heart monitor over traffic delivering a music download. It also makes sense to allow network operators to restrict traffic that is downright harmful, such as viruses, worms and spam”. Thus, the use of throttling or prioritizing internet access over another could be beneficial on saving lives in a hospital.
The issue can be resolved by implementing a new law to be passed enforcing net neutrality for the future of the country. The major internet service providers concerns are simply in the interest of making money, where in the end it will have an adverse effect on their business. In many cases when there are very few internet service providers there is essentially a monopoly happening in that affected area which hurts more than just the consumer. As David Farber and Michael Katz from the Washington Post explained, “For example, if a local telephone company that is a monopoly provider of both broadband access and plain old telephone service for a community blocks its broadband subscribers from using an Internet phone service offered by a rival company, this discrimination can harm both competition and consumers”. Essentially large companies when practicing these ideas are in turn hurting themselves from future business opportunities.
With a permanently free internet, internet service providers can be less focused on regulation and limiting the use of their services and just focus on making them more available to customers nationwide. There should not be competition on who restricts the least when it comes to service. When customers look for a service the reputation of the company, cost, and features are the first things we look for, not restrictions. California enacting its own net neutrality laws is a fine example the rest of the country can continue to follow. Jerry Brown, governor of the state of California, signed a bill into effect in October of 2018 protecting the state of California from the F.C.C.’s removal of net neutrality. The bill prevents providers from blocking or throttling users’ access to websites and services that compete with an internet service providers own offerings, however, the bill has even more protection within it.
The bill also forces internet service providers to not have usage caps on their internet any longer. This foundation would be an ideal law that could be passed nationwide to protect the future of all that the internet holds. While the Department of Justice and the F.C.C. immediately sued the State of California for “attempting to frustrate public policy”, there is not much of a case to be made against the State of California. The problem that the F.C.C. has is how internet is no longer defined as a common carrier anymore. Since internet is no longer considered a common carrier, Barbara van Schewick, Harvard Law Professor, said in a statement to The Verge, “the F.C.C. cannot prevent the states from adopting net neutrality protections because the F.C.C.’s repeal order removed its authority to adopt such protections”. Moving forward, other states can use this to their advantage in protection from impending lawsuits from the Department of Justice or the F.C.C. as California has and is doing.
While the battle for a free internet may never come to an end, the strive for a net neutrality-based web still exists today.