Imagine the internet that you know disappearing.
Imagine instead, that when you log on, browse websites, download content, and stream your favorite shows, your internet service provider (ISP), keeps tabs on your activity and speeds up or slows down your connection based on what it thinks of your actions.
On this type of internet, ISPs would offer higher speeds in the promotion of their own browsers or content networks yet will slow down speeds to restrict access to competitors. Traffic that ISPs wish to restrict from their networks like peer-to-peer file-sharing will trigger slower speeds.
We’re closer to this internet than ever before.
HOW NET NEUTRALITY AFFECTS YOU
Net neutrality is the principle that people have access to an open internet, where no form of traffic is prioritized or punished. It’s short for “network neutrality.” Professor Tim Wu, a Columbia University media law professor was the first to write about it.
We’ve known this version of the internet since the 90s. This version of the internet does not throw up barriers to those trying to use it. It is democratic, free-flowing, and open to everyone with the means to access it.
The alternative is a corporate internet where access and uses are determined by those in control of the networks, infrastructure, and web-based services. It is a theft of the digital commons.
Instead of an open digital market where the services are used how we want, to do what we want, consumers are steered into the networks and services their ISPs dictate. There’s a loss of reliability here, as the new infrastructure is accessible by those who can pay the most. It will lead to inefficient services, such as web search engines that produce skewed results, for instance. Or if your ISP owns a stake in a certain social network, it could restrict access to a competitor, slowing down your connection when you access it. Or they could block it completely.
With these realizations in mind, in 2015 the administration of Barack Obama laid out its net neutrality policy in the form of regulating the internet as a utility, classifying it as a telecommunications service. The Federal Communications Commission ruling that made this official policy applied Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to internet service, enshrining net neutrality as the official policy of the federal government.
Critics of the ruling said that regulation of the internet would lead to investments drying up. What they mean by that is they can’t profit in the manner they wish. Currently, the Republican-controlled FCC is considering dismantling net-neutrality policies.
MONOPOLIES ARE PROBLEMATIC
Placing restrictions on the internet through access or censoring content is what dictatorships do. The United States developed the internet and has the opportunity to maintain leadership. Historically utilities have attempted to control the infrastructure they own. They exert too much control. This ‘cornering the market’ leads to antitrust legislation. ISPs want control of the internet, yet already control connection speeds they offer at varying prices. Internet Service providers dictating the kind of content users can access would hurt the internet experience for us all.
Mike Klepfer is a freelance writer based out of Portland, Oregon.