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Net Neutrality: A Blessing or a Curse?

Updated on July 17, 2017

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the concept of everyone having equal access to the Internet and all of its information no matter how big or small of a company they are. Net neutrality prevents large corporations from having faster loading times, or more access than a smaller company would. In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, which set two legal categories of services. The first was the telecommunications services (i.e. telephone, fax) which were subject to government regulations and the second was information services (i.e. social media, cloud sharing) which were mostly exempt from any regulations. The Federal Communications Commissions have in the past tried to come up with laws that preserved net neutrality and have widely supported it, “There is little dispute… that the Internet should continue as an open platform.” (Hazlett 2). In 2010, the FCC put the Open Internet Order in effect which mandated net neutrality. However, when Verizon later challenged it in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit, they ruled in Verizon’s favor. The court claimed that the FCC couldn’t enforce this because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996; in order for them to be able to enforce the Open Internet Order, the FCC would have to reclassify broadband providers as telecommunications services. However, recently the FCC has proposed a piece of legislation that actually supports paid prioritization. This allows broadband providers (i.e. Comcast, AT&T) to ask websites (i.e. Facebook, CNN) to buy more bandwidth which allows faster loading times. The problem with this is that the more successful and well-known sites will load much faster than smaller blogs or other pages. This would mean that access to those smaller sites would be virtually impossible unless you were to wait endlessly for it to load. The FCC opened up a comments section on this new legislation on their website to see how the public felt about it. The results were overwhelmingly bad; seeing as they got 3.9 million comments, mostly shooting it down.

(From left to right) Michael Copps, Julius Genachowski and Robert McDowell at an F.C.C meeting.
(From left to right) Michael Copps, Julius Genachowski and Robert McDowell at an F.C.C meeting. | Source

The Arguments

The government has tried to reclassify the broadband providers as a telecommunications service which would allow them to be regulated. These providers argue back that government control will stifle technological advances and innovations by having a handle on everything. Some have also argued that government control would scare away private investors that many broadband companies so desperately need to keep going. Although Comcast has said that they largely support Obama in his stance to keep net neutrality, Executive Vice President, David Cohen, pointed out their falling stock prices immediately after Obama announced that these companies might be reclassified. This, Cohen argued, proved that the investors stopped putting as much in for fear of being regulated. Comcast says they support all of the other terms except they, “... do not support the reclassification of broadband as a telecommunication service under Title II.” (Cohen "Surprise! We Agree with the President's Principles on Net Neutrality: Reiterating Our Strong Support for the Open Internet.”). Another point providers have made is that they are indeed an information service, not telecommunications. Since many of these websites that would have regulations are social media like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram they hold an incredible amount of personal data, which companies feel is too risky to put under the regulation and control of the government; especially since the NSA has recently been accused of installing monitoring software on hard drives. These broadband providers claim that they do not want to put their clients' personal information in jeopardy by allowing the government to oversee it all; which could sound like a good point. However, this information might be safer with the government anyways instead of being held by a company with a staggering amount of wealth and greedy investors or scheming businessmen. In 2009 Ivan Seidenberg, the CEO of Verizon, said that these regulations would prohibit companies from managing their networks and making money. Another who is opposed to net neutrality is the Telecommunications Industry Association, which have commented on the proposed FCC rule, “Consumers would suffer if new regulations inadvertently undermined networks’ ability to deliver services with the quality that users have come to expect…popular consumer services…depend on prioritization to overcome difficulties with latency and jitter that can be made worse by traffic congestion.” (Quittner “The Net Neutrality Debate Is Far From Over”).

Should We Keep Net Neutrality?

With
Without
Every company/site would have the same accessibility, no matter how big or small.
Large broadband providers would drastically increase their prices.
The Internet would remain open and free to all.
High speed Internet will not be as accessible to everyone as it is now.
Personal information would be kept in the hands of the individual companies instead of being under government regulation.
Small businesses will suffer

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A Solution?

This controversial debate leaves many wondering what the best solution is that would satisfy both sides. If there was a way to know that companies, such as Comcast, would keep their promise to be neutral as long as they aren’t regulated, then that would be the perfect solution. However, there is no way of knowing this without a trial and error session, which could be very detrimental to the Internet if the FCC fails to protect all information on the web. The FCC has been considering the idea of having a “hybrid” solution, which seems like it would satisfy the supporters and the opposers; however, it does not. The FCC has said that providers would have to prove a just and reasonable cause for speeding up service in court; otherwise, it would be overturned. Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, stated, “Nearly four million internet users submitted comments to the FCC against having fast and slow lanes on the internet, but this proposal explicitly opens the door for them. Worse, it’s based in overly complicated and untested legal theories that are likely to fail in court.” (Rushe "Net Neutrality Advocates to Protest against 'hybrid' FCC Solution in Dozens of Cities."). The best solution is for the chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, to tighten up the rules and use his authority to outlaw fast lane speeds and schemes that may try to find a loophole; this includes reclassifying broadband companies as telecommunications services. The problem with this compromise is that there will not be a so called "fast" and "faster" lane; there will be a slow and fast lane, no matter how much broadband providers try to deny it. This is hard to challenge in court, like previous attempts, because Wheeler could claim that he is solely using his Section 706 authority to regulate broadband providers. This is stated in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and has not been challenged. While there is a first time for everything, it is unlikely to be challenged because if broadband carriers lose the lawsuit, then it could backfire and give the FCC full authority to regulate. Verizon has already stated that they will, “... remain committed to an open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want. We have always focused on providing our customers with the services and experience they want, and this focus has not changed." (Fung “Here’s the FCC’s new plan to bring back net neutrality”). Interestingly enough, they would not comment on whether they would challenge the FCC in court.

The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, speaking on the issue  in 2017.
The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, speaking on the issue in 2017. | Source

Final Thoughts

Net neutrality is a topic that has puzzled politicians and government for years and the issue continues over into 2017. Should we keep the Internet open and fair to all, or do we allow carriers to buy fast lanes making smaller sites inaccessible? The Federal Communications Commission has tried to put several restrictions on the broadband providers, but what they really need is to be reclassified as telecommunications services so that they can be regulated. Doing so would ensure that the carriers did not abuse their power and take advantage of their customers. It would also help smaller companies and websites stay in business and on the Internet. Even Facebook started out of a college dorm room, not a big corporation. If the broadband carriers are worried about the government ‘stifling’ innovation, then they should be looking at themselves. The only thing that is going to end small start up companies is when they can’t relay their information as equally on the web as a broadband carrier. The debate will most likely still continue throughout 2017 and into the following years; but, for now the Internet remains neutral and free.

Sources

Content:

Cohen, David. "Surprise! We Agree with the President's Principles on Net Neutrality: Reiterating Our Strong Support for the Open Internet.” Comcast, Web. 19 Jan. 2015.

Hazlett, Thomas W. The Fallacy of Net Neutrality. New York: Encounter, 2011. https://books.google.com. Google Books, 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Leiner, Barry M., and Vinton G. Cerf. "Internet Society." Brief History of the Internet. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Lumby, Andrew. "The Net Neutrality Debate Explained." The Fiscal Times, 16 Nov. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Poland, Ashley. "What Is the Net Neutrality Debate?" Science. Demand Media, Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Quittner, Jeremy. "The Net Neutrality Debate Is Far From Over (And It Could Go Either Way)." Inc.com. Inc. Magazine, 30 July 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Wu, Tim. "The Solution to the F.C.C.’s Net-Neutrality Problems." The New Yorker, 9 May 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Photographs:

https://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/f-c-c-approves-net-rules-and-braces-for-fight/


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