Tomorrow is when the FCC votes on whether or not net neutrality is dismantled. If you haven’t been paying attention, you might want to listen up now. This bill could affect the future of how we use the internet. Or it could not. In my opinion, this vote is surrounded by a lot of what-ifs, possibilities, and maybes. There is a lot of speculation of what large telecom companies could do or wouldn’t do. The uncertainty of it all is pretty unsettling.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about the terrible things that could happen if it was dismantled. This got me to thinking about why it was even up for debate. I have this naïve opinion that if someone is pushing for an unpopular vote, then they must have a good reason to do so. So I dove a little deeper into what net neutrality is and what are the benefits of dismantling it.
What is Net Neutrality?
My understanding is that the net neutrality ruling blocks internet service providers or internet-based services like Netflix and Hulu from jacking up prices. Without it, internet providers could create service packages based on how customers use the internet instead of a blanket price based on how many gigs you want to use per month. I’m making an assumption that the dismantling of net neutrality means more money for large telecom conglomerates and less money in my pocket. Without net neutrality protecting the consumer, businesses can control how fast the internet speed is and how much of the internet we get to use.
Let me back this up with a more definitive answer on what net neutrality is. According to Wikipedia:
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.
Net neutrality sounds like common sense to me. Before this 2015 ruling, ISPs were on an honor-system to be kind to their customers and not be greedy. But, turns out some companies were greedy, like AT&T disabling FaceTime unless customers paid for a more expensive plan. Net neutrality was put in place to protect the consumer from this instance and many other violations. So why the need to overturn the ruling?
Ajit Pai’s Reasoning to Overturn Net Neutrality
The FCC’s vote to overturn net neutrality is headed by the FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, who voted against net neutrality in 2015. Pai’s reasoning is that internet services providers should be able to voluntary promise to uphold the principles set by the net neutrality law by including them in their terms of service. However, my own concern is that the terms and conditions could also add a clause of sorts allowing the company to change those terms at any time.
Pai was recently interviewed on PBS Newshour and answered his thoughts on why he is proposing to scrap net neutrality. This is what he had to say:
Well, I favor a free and open Internet, as I think most consumers do.
My concern is with the particular regulations that the FCC adopted two years ago. They are what is called Title II regulations developed in the 1930s to regulate the Ma Bell telephone monopoly.
And my concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on Internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out Internet access to a lot of parts of the country, in low-income, urban and rural areas, for example.
And that, I think, is something that nobody would benefit from.
The Benefits of Dismantling Net Neutrality
Pai gave one example of why he felt that there was a need to end net neutrality, particularly the Title II regulation. Here’s what I was able to find on the other benefits to dismantle it:
- Currently, there is too much government regulation involved. By rescinding the net neutrality bill, it creates healthy competition.
- The current regulations are already written with big corporate interests in mind. If released from government control, more small companies will have a say.
- The possibility of better services at a lower cost.
- Rescinding net neutrality will protect consumers’ privacy from government hands.
- Under government control, the internet is subjected to political whims.
- The possibility of more free data plans – Verizon and T-Mobile let customers watch some content provider services for free. To increase competition, more companies could do the same.
- FCC will no longer regulate telecoms. The Federal Trade Commission would be in charge but doesn’t have the authority to make rules. This could be good or bad. Less control over the internet but also less control to make positive changes in the future.
- Removing the Title II regulations will free up smaller companies to get the financing that they need.
- The current Title II regulations hurt small internet companies in rural areas because they can’t compete with the expenses necessary to comply with the Title II rules.
- The light-touch regulation of the 1990s up until 2015 allowed companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter to flourish. Opponents of net neutrality want to go back to where the market was monitored but not micro-managed unless action was required.
- Government interference is not necessary because the market itself will hold telecoms and ISPs to fair practice.
Title II – What Does It Mean?
Some opponents of net neutrality will bring up the fact that the law is based on the 1930s ruling and shouldn’t be applied to the internet. The ruling in question is Title II of the Telecommunications Act which reclassified ISPs as utility-style “common carriers.” This subjected the providers to strict regulations.
The regulations ensured that service to all citizens is secure and reliable. Treating it as a utility makes having access to the internet a civil right. However, it should be noted that the FCC commission that voted on the Obama-era net neutrality did not put in place any pricing regulations which is part of standard utility classification.
What is the future of the internet?
In my research, it seemed that both sides of the argument talked a lot about theoretical issues. Could the dismantling of net neutrality mean better internet prices? Sure. Could it mean more internet access to low-income, rural families? Possibly. Could it also suggest that those same low-income families would have to pay more to have access to individual websites or content providers? Maybe. And could ISPs throttle some content provider services depending on if it competes with their own interests? Perhaps.
There are too many what-ifs when it comes to the agreement for or against net neutrality. However, I can’t help but be wary of something that big money-making corporations are for, like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, and the internet pioneers and content providers are against.
I have a set of my own what ifs that affect my work. As a web design student, I worry if the lack of net neutrality protection will force me to have to pay more to ISPs just so my sites can be found on their services. Will the small local roofing company I work for have to pay to have access to the social media sites that I manage? It’s already hard enough to compete organically on these sites without paying to place ads. Will I now have to worry about the audience views going down even more because not all of them will be willing to pay for a social media package?
If anything is for sure, it’s that the future of the internet is filled with uncertainties. Who benefits from the dismantling of net neutrality today could no longer be the case in 5 or 10 years from now. With the way the internet evolves, it could even be sooner than that.