Contributed by Lawrence Lease
Stephen Hawking has said that, “We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.” Today, we have the ability to communicate in ways that were previously impossible. Information and people are just a click away and that is all thanks to the Internet.
Recently, there has been much controversy over “net neutrality” and the FCC’s ability to regulate the Internet. It is argued by some that net neutrality can simply be defined as “a free and open Internet”.
The Federal Communications Committee (FCC) has regulated the Internet with general rules known as Net Neutrality Principles since the early 1990s. The FCC is used to protect the consumers of utilities, such as radio, and since the creation of the Internet, the FCC has believed that there should be a free and open Internet that shouldn’t be controlled by big companies.
In 2014, Verizon sued the FCC and won, believing that the FCC had no right to control the Internet since it wasn’t a Title II utility such as phones, buses and taxis, which are services regulated for the benefit of the public.
Supporters of net neutrality are trying to get the Internet classified as a Title II utility. The argument is that the Internet should be considered a Title II utility because of the extent to which the public uses it.
Due to the extensive use of the Internet in all aspects of today’s life, with many people using it for shopping, banking, healthcare, paying bills and many other types of activities, since it is so important, it should be classified as a Title II utility.
Without net neutrality some people believe that Internet service providers will try to own the Internet. They could bundle certain websites together, such as shopping websites, entertainment websites, gaming sources and news outlets, like they do with television. They’d make people pay either for faster Internet speeds to the bundled websites or for the access to the websites in general.
As of right now, this type of bundling is illegal under FCC rules and simply put, Internet companies shouldn’t say what websites to visit or how fast the sites can be.
If the Internet cannot be regulated by the FCC, it will allow large Internet service providers to not only bundle services, but it would also give them the ability to take advantage of businesses. This would allow them to offer websites the option to pay extra for higher Internet speeds, making accessing their websites easier. For example, Hulu can pay for faster speeds for their users, which would make it seem like a higher quality website over Netflix or Amazon and therefore, more consumers would choose to purchase Hulu. This is called paid prioritization, and it can negatively affect smaller businesses that can’t afford to pay competitive rates against the large companies and effectively make them irrelevant online.
Not only can they use paid prioritization to boost speeds to websites, Internet service providers can actually block particular websites as they see fit. This can limit the dissemination of information and would give them the ability to block websites they might not agree with. This type of censorship is dangerous and though the Internet service providers are private companies, they would have the sole power to regulate public utility.
An example of this came in 2005 when the Internet service provider, TELUS, in Canada blocked the access to a pro-union website that was organizing against TELUS, as well as blocking over 700 other websites.
One downside to classifying the Internet as a Title II is that it leaves it vulnerable to heavy regulation from the United States government.
Chairman Ajit Pai, Trump’s appointee to the chairman of the FCC, chose to challenge the FCC’s classification of the Internet as a Title II because of the desire to limit government red tape and power over the private market. Though this is usually a good thing, in the context of net neutrality, it could have negative results.
We live in a free and democratic society with capitalist principles driving our economy forward. Many believe that by limiting the Internet service provider’s ability to open up their services for competition, the FCC will hinder their ability to innovate and change in positive ways. This would be true if most Internet service providers didn’t already have a monopoly on Internet service. All across the country, different providers agree to cover different areas, so as to not create competition. This is why many places in the US only have the option of a single cable provider.
Usually, competition in the free market is the greatest regulator of companies and issues such as net neutrality. However, because there are limited options, there is limited competition. From 1996 to 2015, Internet service providers invested $1.5 trillion in building infrastructure of the Internet, and since there is already this vast infrastructure, it would be difficult for many smaller companies to compete on an open market.
Government was created to protect and serve the people that it governs. The core of the debate is not whether or not the government should regulate business; however, it is whether or not Internet is a utility. It is the responsibility of the people to make their voice heard that net neutrality is important. The people of the United States deserve to have a free and open Internet, and it is the responsibility of the FCC and Chairman Pai to protect the Internet as a utility.