Rich Crocco

Will Net Neutrality Deliver as it Promises?

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality has been getting a lot of attention since the FCC approved FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed Net Neutrality rules on February 26th.  If you’re watching the coverage of this issue as I am, you are seeing some pretty passionate arguments on both sides.  It basically comes down to who you trust; advocates against government intrusion or the government itself.  I will attempt to clear the muddy waters a bit on both sides.

Net Neutrality is supposed to be a set of rules that protect all users of the internet from being discriminated against by internet service providers or ISPs (think Verizon, AT&T, Comcast as opposed to content providers like Netflix).  This means everyone is entitled to a ‘free and open’ internet.  For instance, as an end user of the internet, your experience should not be diminished because the website you’re visiting is not paying a premium to the ISP. The most meaningful types of discrimination at the center of the debate are:

1) Blocking – interfering with or blocking certain internet traffic.

2) Throttling – deliberate slowing of an internet service to a customer.

3) Paid Prioritization – creation of so called more expensive ‘fast lanes’ on the internet which would cater to companies that can afford the added cost, arguably favoring more established companies at the expense of smaller, less established companies or content providers, i.e. small internet retailers, blogs, etc.  

There was a similar set of rules put in place by the FCC in 2010, however those rules were overturned in early 2014 by a Federal Appeals Court based on the “shaky legal foundation it established for those rules” (savetheinternet.com).  One of the main reasons this set of rules was overturned is that ISPs were technically considered information service providers rather than ‘common carriers’ (such as telephone services).  The FCC has much more regulatory jurisdiction over common carriers.  Based on a petition signed by over 100,000 Americans, public comments by over 4 million Americans and the FCC working to change the classification of ISPs to common carriers, we now have a new set of Net Neutrality rules.

Is this good or bad for Americans?

One argument for Net Neutrality comes from the idea that the internet should be regulated under the same umbrella as any public utility such as say electricity.  If I pay my electricity bill then I have a right to use electricity as i see fit.  The electric company cannot discriminate against me or direct any of the three types of actions listed above against me.  Another argument for Net Neutrality is that without these regulations, large corporations will always win out over start-ups or other small companies.  The larger companies will have the ‘fast lanes’ on the internet while the small guys have deteriorated service.  This isn’t to say that large content providers such as Netflix are against Net Neutrality.  They are the ones that would be forced to pay the higher fees for the fast lane!

The arguments I’m hearing against Net Neutrality stem primarily from an overall distrust of government regulation.  Dissenters are not necessarily against the idea, instead they are usually against what it might lead to.  “What happens when a Republican takes office?”  “Look how the ACA turned out.”  “How will the government use this to spy on me?”  If you have a general distrust of government regulation, you probably are not going to be in favor of the FCC regulating the internet.  The other main argument is that competition will be diminished once government regulation steps in and this will decrease innovation and growth in internet services.  However, the FCC is claiming it is protecting competition and free speech; again it comes down to who you trust.  One direct quote I read summed up the opposing view pretty well, “The image of government being full of people on a mission to protect the little guy from predatory corporate behemoths is an illusion fostered by politicians and corporate interests alike.” (forbes.com).

In the end I believe the intention of Net Neutrality is a net positve for all internet users.  The question really is whether the manifestation of government regulation and policy will accomplish the intention sought after by Net Neutrality (refer to Net Neutrality – President Obama’s Plan for a Free and Open Internet to fully understand the intention).

What side of the argument do you fall on?

Please leave me your comments.

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