The concept of Net Neutrality has become a huge point of contention in the US. Upon trying to get more information I was bombarded with what seemed to me like screaming either for or against and it seemed very hard to me to get a good grasp about what exactly the arguments were. I’m going to try to set out both sides in a way that makes sense and then add my 2 cents to the pile.
Net Neutrality is really the term for keeping the internet “free”. That means that the internet companies can’t tinker with the flow of data over its networks. “Tinker” can mean a lot of different things from limited access to specific sites to purposely slowing the speed of the internet for certain people to “spying” on their networks. Scary thought? Very Scary. So with that being said, it would seem that the answer would be clear cut right? Wrong. If the answer were as clear cut as that, there wouldn’t be an argument. The FCC (Federal Communication Commission) is the government body that regulates communication in the US. In 2011, Verizon filed suit against the FCC for overstepping their rights to regulate and won. This is when Net Neutrality became a huge issue.
Opponents of Net Neutrality (surprise, surprise, most big voices against Net Neutrality are the Internet Companies themselves) put forth some actually clear arguments. The biggest argument is that the regulation by the FCC would cause the infrastructure to lag even further behind the rest of the world. To back up a step, for those of you who don’t know, the US lags far behind other developed nations in broadband speed and bandwidth. If there was no Net Neutrality, the argument is that the internet companies could charge for “Tiered” service and thus make more money to spend on building up the infrastructure which would eventually lead to higher speeds and better coverage overall.
What is “Tiered Service”? Think of it like a line to get on a Disney World Attraction. If you have a Fast Pass you can get into a special line and get to ride the other ride faster than someone in the regular line. Essentially what the internet companies could do would be to create these faster tiers of internet and charge more for it.
The other big argument is that letting the FCC (A government entity) regulate the internet would cause even more problems. It is put in this way: Right now, as a customer, you have a choice. With the FCC regulating, every company would essentially become the same and the choice would be ripped away from you.
Given those 2 big points, let me show you why there is an argument. The way that the large internet companies argue, introducing the Tiered Internet Model would give them more money to invest in infrastructure. However, what is the goal of any company? To make more money. The fear is that without any FCC Regulations, the Internet Companies would start Tiered Internet but then have no incentive to actually invest the money, but instead just line their own pockets. The Tiered Internet Model would also impact low income customers who would not be able to afford the faster tier and then be stuck with an internet that is slow and worse than someone able to pay for a higher tier. It is not only going to affect the customer directly but indirectly too. Without FCC regulation, Internet Providers could cut deals with companies like Netflix. For example: Verizon and Netflix could cut a deal where Netflix would be the only movie streaming service available on Verizon Internet or at the very least, stream faster and with higher quality than a competing service. That would cause the customers to pay more since a deal like that would cost Netflix a lot of money, driving up their subscription costs.
In regards to the argument that if the FCC were regulating, the customer would have little choice left is just absurd. The Internet Companies pretty much have a monopoly on the industry anyway. Most Americans only have 2 – 3 choices of internet providers.
There are more arguments on both sides but those are the two that come up again and again. Honestly, I think the underlying problem is not Net Neutrality but the monopolies that have sprung up causing there to hardly be any competition and driving prices way up. An Op-Ed Piece in the New York Times from 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/opinion/21Benkler.html?_r=0) really explains the underlying problem. In France and much of the other civilized parts of the world, internet is cheap. How cheap? Imagine getting 1000mbps up and down for $33.00. You can in Seoul, South Korea. Look at: http://oti.newamerica.net/sites/newamerica.net/files/policydocs/The_Cost_of_Connectivity_2013_Data_Release.pdf for more information about the prices around the world.
We’ll see what happens but personally, I believe that nothing is going to get fixed until we do something about the Internet Company Monopolies and their chokehold on the industry.