Net Neutrality is an issue that can affect every internet user, and the fight to preserve Net Neutrality presses on. Stakeholders on all sides are making their arguments. They are petitioning their case to the government, and the public. On one side you have advocacy groups, content publishers, and other supporters. These groups are working to keep, and even strengthen, Net Neutrality rules. The other side consists mostly of large corporations. Many of whom control the networks that deliver internet content to users. Many of these companies also offer their own content to users. In addition, the Government is signaling that it is on the side of the ISPs. Therefore, it is increasingly urgent for supporters of Net Neutrality to mobilize.
A brief explanation of Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality is the idea that ISPs must treat all information transiting their networks as equal. Net Neutrality ensures that all content providers, can freely deliver their content to end users. This does not mean free internet service for content providers. Rather, online content providers pay charges for access to the internet. This is similar to the way that users pay for internet service. Therefore, content publishers have already paid for access. Net Neutrality means that they don’t have to pay again.
The concept of neutrality is not new. Think about the phone companies with Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS. Let’s say you have a landline provided by one company. You can make and receive calls to or from any other landline, even one from another provider. Neither company hampers service because you have a different provider, as this is illegal. Telephone companies are “Common Carriers”, regulated under title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
The reasoning behind this is that telephone service is a vital service. It is in the public interest that there not be unreasonable barriers to access. As recent as 2015, the FCC saw the similarities. They recognized the importance of the internet, and of keeping it open. They took actions to classify ISPs as “Common Carriers.” This essentially codified a form of Net Neutrality in FCC regulations.
The arguments against Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality has many arguments made against it. These arguments come from a variety of sources. Most of the arguments are linked back to the ISPs. A major argument is that Net Neutrality hinders investment. This is flat-out false, and even the ISPs have stated that this is simply not the case. Another popular argument is that ISPs will do the right thing on their own. Sadly, this is not the case, in many cases it is the opposite. This is because ISPs have proven they are not doing the right thing on their own. They are regularly caught messing with traffic speeds, also known as throttling. They are also notorious for finding ways to give their own, or their partners, content a edge over the competition.
The government has made up its mind already, or so it seems. Since the Trump presidency began, the Government has signaled that it does not favor Net Neutrality. Under chairman, Ajit Pai, the FCC launched a campaign to roll back the regulations enacted under the Obama administration. The FCC has labeled this campaign, “restoring internet freedom”. The idea, they say, is to return to “light touch” regulation, or the way things used to be. Part of the reason for the change in tone from the FCC, is that the new administration is Republican. The Republicans believe the regulation is harmful to business, and as such they generally favor deregulation.
Why Net Neutrality is important
There are many ways where ISPs capitalize if Net Neutrality goes away. First of all, they could allow content providers to pay a fee for faster delivery. Or, they could slow the speed of, or, even not carry non-paying traffic. This would be harmful to many smaller websites, as they often would not be able to afford the fees. Imagine a scenario, a billion dollar company owns a news outlet, and a small nonprofit owns another. Each reports the same story with a different lean, one conservative, one liberal, for example. In this scenario one pays the fee and so they get faster distribution; the other can’t pay, and is slower. The result is that an important viewpoint is missed, because users don’t visit the slower site.
Secondly, ISPs could give their own content an advantage over their competitors. Most of the major ISPs also own, or have interests in, television and other media. An example of this conflict of interest is Comcast. Comcast is not only a large provider of cable internet service, they are also own several media and internet properties. The largest of these media properties is NBC. What is to stop Comcast from giving content from NBC an edge, or creating a disadvantage for a competitor? This is where Net Neutrality steps in, and helps to level the playing field, at least from the point of internet service.
Another scenario is maybe they don’t mess with speeds. Instead, ISPs give users an incentive to use their service over another. This happened last year, after AT&T purchased DirecTV. The telecom giant was under the scrutiny of regulators for “Zero Rating” their DirecTV Now service. In this case, AT&T customers were not charged data for accessing DirecTV Now, but, they were charged data. when using other services, AT&T was clearly favoring their own content. Consequently, the FCC of the Obama Administration was none to pleased.
Help to preserve Net Neutrality
If it is not clear, this article has a bias to it. I fully support the ideal of a free and open internet. I believe that it is vital to free speech that all legal content is treated as equal. Unimpeded access to a variety of content is important to innovation and public discourse. If you believe that Net Neutrality is important, I urge you to get involved in the fight. As a citizen it is your right to express your concerns to your government. Here are some ways to get involved:
Sign a petition
There are several organizations that have created online letters and petitions to the FCC. This is one of the easiest actions you can take, it only takes a few minutes. Mozilla, Battle for the Internet, and the Save the Internet Project are great places to do this.
Write a letter to the FCC
Visit the FCC website and find their contact details. Send them a short and polite letter on why you think Net Neutrality is a good thing.
Write your elected Representatives
This is a great step, because the FCC has to answer not only to the public, but to Congress. Google your elected Representatives, find out their contact details and send them short letter. Keep it short and let them know why you support Net Neutrality.
Reach your elected Representatives on Social Media
Find out who your Representatives are and send them a message on social media, they all have at least Twitter and Facebook. BattlefortheInternet.com makes this easy with a feature to find your them, and send them a tweet right from the website.
Spread the Word
This section of this article links to many resources. Visit them and share them. Or, if you are short on time just click share at the bottom of this article.
Support organizations that support Net Neutrality
Do what you can do to support those that are supporting Net Neutrality. Not only do these organizations support this issue, but a host of important issues. Donate money, volunteer, or do whatever else you can. Just look on their websites to see what they need. Here is a small list of some of those organizations.
Editors Note: We edited this article after publication for context and clarity.