Net Neutrality Pros And Cons – The Big Issues Tackled, Whats Your Take?

Net Neutrality has been a hot topic in recent months as debate ensues over the decision of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai to champion a repeal of the Obama-era laws that regulated how Internet service providers (ISPs) handled online traffic.

It is not the only or the last policy of his that has or will be been repealed, respectively.

You may have even come across petitions inviting you to take a stand against the FCC and ISPs by fighting for net neutrality.

But the million-dollar question is what is net neutrality? And how does this affect you and me?

What is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality refers to the concept that ISPs must treat all online traffic the same. The term was coined in 2003 by Tim Wu, a professor at the University of Virginia, in an article.

Wu argued that the interests of ISPs must not prevent users from getting the best products and services. This means that some online activities need not attract more cost.

For example, streaming movies online should not be more expensive than reading articles online or browsing on social media.

Net neutrality prevents ISPs from throttling specific Internet traffic while prioritizing others. Ultimately, it precludes ISPs from limiting your Internet traffic to compel you to opt for a more expensive data package.

Without net neutrality, streaming movies on Netflix may be slow unless you are paying for a high-tier data package. However, with net neutrality rules, the data package that you choose will have no effect on the quality of the Internet traffic that you enjoy.

Since June 2018, activists have been urging members of Congress to take a stand for Net neutrality. However, these efforts have not been very successful. As a last resort, a massive protest is being planned for later this month to drive the importance of the issue to politicians and the general public.

To appreciate the importance of the fight for Net neutrality and how we got to this point, it is essential that we delve into history briefly.

A Brief History of Net Neutrality

Although it is only coming to the forefront of mainstream debate today, Net neutrality has been a thorny issue since the Internet became available to the public in the 90s (and it was not invented by Al Gore). But we need to go further back into the past to understand net neutrality and the role of the FCC.

In 1934, one year after taxes were increased keeping America in the depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Communications Act of 1934 into law.

This federal law led to the establishment of the FCC and mandated the new organization with regulating electronic communication technologies in the US.

One of the goals of the Communications Act of 1934 was fighting large monopolies in the communication sector and creating a level field for all the players in the industry.

The law categorized communication companies as either Title I “information services” or Title II “common carrier services” based on their activities.

It also established the rules for governing both types of organizations. While the FCC has authority over Title II common carriers (including how much they charge customers), it has less sway over Title I information companies.

A common carrier is essentially a company that is paid to transport things (data in the case of net neutrality) from one point to another.

The law governing common carriers requires companies to do their job without any discrimination. This means all customers must be charged the same regardless of the content of what is being transferred.

In the early days of the Internet, everyone used dial-up modems, which relied on phone lines, so the service was automatically categorized under Title II.

The introduction of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (which was a few years before the NBA started to help the Lakers win championships) clearly defined what falls under Title I and Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. However, it failed to make any provisions for broadband Internet.

This created a loophole that was quickly exploited by ISPs to develop high-speed Internet packages.

Fast forward to 2002, under the Bush administration, the FCC officially categorized broadband ISPs as information service providers under Title I of the 1934 Communications Act.

In 2005, the FCC started to warm up to the idea of net neutrality and released a 4-point policy in support of it. But this did not go down well with ISPs, and many of them including Comcast and Verizon took the FCC to court in the following years.

After losing several court battles – most notably one to Verizon – the FCC passed an order in 2015 categorizing broadband ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Internet companies tried to fight the new rule but failed in court.

In 2017, current FCC chairman Pai decided to revert broadband ISPs to Title I of the 1934 Communications Act. This made them information service providers and took away the ability of the FCC to regulate their activities to some extent.

In May 2017, the FCC officially started enforcing the rollback of net neutrality rules much to the chagrin of many Americans. Despite widespread protests against the move, the FCC is going ahead to take down the long-sought net neutrality provisions.

According to Pai, the FCC made a misstep by attempting to define broadband ISPs as common carriers in 2015, noting that we aren't living in a “digital dystopia.”

He argued that the move to regulate how Internet traffic is handled goes against the spirit of promoting a competitive free market.

Pai claimed that rather than worrying about not having access to online content, Internet users are more concerned with the lack of competition in the sector. He surmised that net neutrality stifles competition among broadband service providers.

Under the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom Order, the Federal Trade Commission will once again be responsible for regulating the activities of ISPs. The FCC also requires ISPs to uphold transparency by releasing information about their network management practices and more.

The Pros and Cons of Net Neutrality

You may be thinking, how bad can the decision to take down net neutrality be? Well, let's look at some pros and cons of net neutrality, each key topic contains two lists (one for each side of the arguments).

1. Everyone Pays the Same Price for the Internet

Pro

One of the top advantages of Net neutrality rules is that it deters ISPs from enforcing data packages to get users to pay more to access faster Internet or more data. This means your ISP cannot throttle your traffic or block access to certain online services.

In countries where net neutrality is strictly enforced, users pay the same amount to get access to the Internet. This goes a long way to promote the free flow of information, ensuring both that not only those who can afford top-tier Internet packages can make maximum use of the web.

Con

On the other side of this, the data consumption of different online services varies. For example, a person on Twitter would consume less data than a person watching a movie on Hulu.

Charging a user who consumes massive amounts of data the same as a user who doesn't use up as much data doesn't allow ISPs get full compensation for the use of their infrastructure to support high data usage.

2. Censorship

Pro

Censorship is a big issue in the virtual world. By enforcing net neutrality, ISPs cannot keep a tab on the activities of users and restrict their freedom of expression.

This promotes healthy debates and a free flow of ideas. However, Net neutrality rules do not give people a license to break the law since content that fails to comply with the regulations of the state can still be censored.

Cons

By removing the ability of ISPs to check what people are using the Internet for, there are higher chances that free speech will be abused.

Although there are organizations that can regulate censorship under Net neutrality, it would take considerably more time for slimy content to be identified and taken down from the web. This creates a window for the dissemination of illegal ideas.

3. Creates an Equal Playing Field

Pro

Net neutrality prevents monopolization of Internet resources by big companies. These rules ensure that all ISPs have access to the same resources and can deploy them to the benefit of users. This goes a long way to promote innovation in the industry. It also ensures that smaller companies are not left behind.

Con

By eliminating the possibility of ISPs offering multi-tiered Internet packages and opening the same Internet “lanes” for small and big ISPs, Net neutrality limits the ability of big companies to benefit from their investment fully.

For example, a company may invest in high-tech fiber optics network, but its pricing scheme would not reflect this superior network. Even worse, some big companies may be compelled to open up their data routes to smaller competitors.

4. Internet as Public Utility

Pro

Under Net neutrality rules, the Internet is categorized as a public utility along with other basic essentials like electricity and water. This means it is a fundamental right of everyone and is available at about the same price.

Cons

Making the Internet a public utility takes away the ability of users to save money by choosing particular data packages that may suit their budget. For example, I can spend $50 on a monthly Internet package without net neutrality.

This amount may be all I can afford for the Internet in a month. However, without neutrality rules, the option of choosing a data plan that fits your budget is gone. Therefore, if the standard price for a monthly Internet plan is $100 and I can't afford it, the next best option is to disconnect from the web.

5. Everyone Enjoys the Same Internet Speed

Pro

Net neutrality compels ISPs to provide the same service to every customer. This means the flow of data cannot be accelerated or stifled for any reason. As a result, we all enjoy the same Internet speed.

Con

On the surface, giving every user the same Internet speed seems like a positive move. However, sometimes users need instant and fast access to the Internet. And although they may be willing to pay to receive priority Internet access, net neutrality takes away that option.

Therefore, if the general Internet speed is temporarily weak, you have no recourse.

Based on Disingenuous Information

These are just a few of the top pros and cons of Net Neutrality. The battle for the future of the Internet is ongoing. Critics insist that the FCC's decision to repeal Net neutrality is based on a faulty premise.

It has since been found that nearly half of the 22 million comments that the commission received when it was still considering the issue in 2015 were fake.

Although the issue ultimately rests on the decision of Congress, you can participate in the debate by calling or writing to your local representative and letting your position on the topic known. Some people are going to the extent of creating petitions and amassing signatures to support their stand.

Some states in the US like California, which is struggling economically, have revealed their intention to dictate Net neutrality rules within their jurisdiction regardless of the decision of Congress. This may be a middle-ground solution to this problematic issue.

However, the topic is still up for debate, and it remains to be seen if the federal government would back down and permit this.

What's your take on the topic of Net Neutrality? Do you have a positive or negative spin you'd like to put forward? Let us know in the comments below