Campus Guide '17: Net Neutrality should be appreciated, defended
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, during the June 15 Inaugural Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force Meeting in Washington, D.C. Internet advocates believe that Pai aims to dismantle net neutrality.
In January 1996, two Ph.D students at Stanford University sought out a more efficient way to search the internet. Instead of displaying results based solely on the amount of times a search term appeared on a web page, they examined the relationship between the sites themselves. Their project grew and took on many names until it reached its final incarnation, Google. What started as a student research project is now one of the highest-grossing companies in the world, a household name and even a verb. Their success resulted from the fact that anyone, anywhere, could freely access their service without impedance. Their success resulted from Net Neutrality.
Net Neutrality is the idea that internet content should be openly accessible without Internet Service Providers (ISPs) blocking, restricting or favoring content. This prevents ISPs from regulating different web services to fast-lanes and slow-lanes of Internet traffic based on whether these services are willing or able to financially submit to these charges. For those who have unlimited data plans on their cell phones, imagine that instead of your internet access being slowed down once you reach your data cap, your Internet access is slowed based on whether or not the website you’re trying to access has paid a premium to be in one of these fast-lanes.
The internet we have always known has been a resource where anyone’s voice can be heard, and at this point, we probably take it for granted. It’s hard to imagine an internet any different than the one we have always experienced and quite frankly, anything else wouldn’t really be “the internet.”
Everyone accesses the internet through our ISPs. Whether it be at home, on our phone or at a coffee shop, our internet traffic must first go through the servers of whichever company is providing us with internet access. To ensure that these companies do not abuse their power for the sake of profit, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacted legal restrictions in 2015 preventing ISPs from violating Net Neutrality, meaning ISPs must give users equal access to the internet. Part of this ruling classified ISPs as Title II common carriers, subjecting them to the Communications Act of 1934. A key piece of this act is the assurance that telecommunications companies act in the public interest, cementing the long standing ideal that web companies couldn’t pay ISPs for favorable access to their content while slowing or blocking their competitors.
As with all major issues, ideology falls in a spectrum between two extremes. On one end is the idea that removing these regulations will give companies more freedom and in turn, foster further innovation. The other being the fear of complete Orwellian censorship of the Internet. In reality, what would actually happen will probably fall somewhere in the middle. From an objective standpoint, removing these regulations would be good for the ISP’s business — but what’s good for business isn’t always good for the consumer.
Ajit Pai, current Chairman of the FCC, is in favor of rolling back the 2015 regulations that ensure the internet would continue to be the open utility that allowed companies like Google to get their start. On July 11, a “Day of Action” was organized by Net Neutrality advocacy groups, calling on citizens to abandon social media and other internet platforms for 24 hours as a show of support of current regulations protecting Net Neutrality. The same day, AT&T released a statement saying that while they support Net Neutrality, they are in favor of removing the standing regulations.
An important piece to note is that some services already receive special benefits, especially in the realm of cell carriers. An emerging trend is that some phone companies, such as T-Mobile, allow their customers to access certain services without it counting towards their data cap. In a way, this could be seen as violating Net Neutrality, even though these benefits in no way limit the consumers access to the internet. In fact, they increase the user’s ability to access content. For consumers, this is an agreeable practice. If a company wants to invest their own money to relieve the burden of cost for their patrons, they should have that right. But the only way to do this isn’t by removing the prevailing regulations. Once again, the most practical solution can fall in the middle ground, one where companies can pay for their service to be accessed without the user needing to pay an internet bill to connect to this service. While ISPs could enact such a concept with the removal of such regulations, the only thing inhibiting the actualization of the Orwellian extreme are said regulations.
But what could this all mean for students?
It means that the next big idea for a social media platform brewing in the mind of a UA student might not get equal footing with giants such as Facebook and Twitter, and that UAccess could get put in a slow-lane of Internet traffic, impeding our access to it. It could mean that the next research paper you write could be restricted to sources with the capital to afford their content not being blocked, and that the legally-dubious free streaming service you use to watch the shows you can’t find on Netflix might suddenly disappear.
The is the reality we face not at the far end of the spectrum, but within the middle ground.
While changes to Net Neutrality have not yet occurred, this doesn’t mean they couldn’t happen in the near future. As time goes on, the impending threat of this regulation removal grows only more real. If we do nothing, this could soon become a reality.
And that’s the key, continual public support for the current regulations. Everything from streaming services such as Netflix to your friend’s food blog could be subjected to what is essentially corporate extortion, if the standing regulations are removed. The real tragedy is that multi-million dollar companies like Netflix can afford to pay these premiums, though I doubt your friend’s food blog has the same amount of expendable income.
By continuing to show our support for Net Neutrality, we can help prevent an Internet fueled by the highest bidder and maintain the Internet as we have always known it — an open platform where anyone’s voice can be heard.
Follow Brian Winkler on Twitter