What is Network Neutrality

Since the invention of the internet, the number of devices connected to the internet has been growing rapidly. As of 2016 it is estimated that over 3 billion (about half of the world’s population) is connected to the web. As the internet grows, slowly differing opinions and issues begin to crop up, including the idea of “Net Neutrality” which has been fiercely debated in the last decade. Net Neutrality is the idea that all lawful traffic on the internet should be trated the same (Becker; Gharakheil). ISPs should not be allowed to block or throttle content because they were paid to do so or if they were not paid enough. ISPs also should not be allowed to censor content simply because they do not agree with it, such as political views.

Net Neutrality is a term introduced by Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu and it is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all lawful content and traffic equally (Becker; Gharakheil). Under Net Neutrality, the Internet should be easily and equally accessible to all individuals, companies, and organizations. On February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in favor of Net Neutrality, reclassifying broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. On December 14, 2017, the FCC voted in favor of repealing those rules and on June 11, 2018 Net Neutrality was officially repealed.

Without net neutrality, ISPs could slow down certain internet traffic. One of the possible scenarios is that some Content Providers (CPs) could pay ISPs to prioritize their traffic over that of their competitors. There have been some examples of such behavior from ISPs; an example would be in 2014 when CP Netflix reached an agreement with ISP Comcast to improve the quality of service (QoS) to Netflix clients (Gharakheil). While Netflix experiences an increase in speed other traffic will be slowed, which could have a harsh impact on startups who are unable to afford the fee for a fast lane; a study in 2008 by the Aberdeen Group found that even a one-second delay could lead to ‘11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions” (Dooley).

The throttling of data can cause other problems, for example in late July 2018 during the California wildfire firefighters in Santa Clara County, California were faced with another problem other than the wildfire: a loss of communication. Verizon had throttled the broadband connection to a vehicle used to receive calls for help and to coordinate firefighters and equipment, because they had reached their monthly data allotment. According to Santa Clara County Fire Chief, instead of restoring a stable data transfer speed Verizon representatives had told County Fire that they would have to switch to a new data plan at more than double the cost. Verizon later apologized and announced that they would lift the data cap on all California emergency response vehicles (Sullivan).

Some of the advocators for Net Neutrality are CPs such as Google, Facebook and Netflix. Their reason to support Net Neutrality is that ISPs are taking advantage of CPs by forcing them to pay for fast-lanes. Other proponents of Net Neutrality include consumer rights advocates and human rights organizations; they argue that an open Internet will foster free speech and that without Net Neutrality ISPs would abuse their position of power and stifle the peoples’ right of free speech.

Without net neutrality internet access could also become more expensive for consumers. In some countries without net neutrality ISPs have already adopted tiered pricing structures, where higher bandwidth comes with a higher expense. In addition to this, some ISPs have set varying data caps on total data usage for users with different contracts. Without Net Neutrality ISPs could also take unfair advantage of users that have access to very few providers by charging them more simply because they have no other option other than to accept it or pay more. Under net neutrality ISPs are also unable to provide Internet access for free or at a reduced cost to low-income households, the concept is known as “zero rating” which allows customers to use certain services with no impact to their allotted data caps (Gharakheil, Willcox). While it sounds like a great idea it can also be harmful to the economy because ISPs are giving select CPs an advantage over their competitors.

Without Open Internet rules preventing ISPs from abusing their position as gatekeepers to the Internet they can do just about anything they want. During June 2018 AT&T completed their acquisition of Time Warner at a price of $85 billion and just days after that they planned on completing more acquisitions: ‘We’re standing up a significant advertising platform; you should expect some smaller [mergers and acquisitions] in the coming weeks to demonstrate our commitment to that,’ AT&T CEO Stephenson said (Brodkin). Around the same time Comcast announced a $65 billion bid for Twenty-First Century Fox, even though they later dropped the bid allowing Disney to win, they instead focused on their acquisition of British broadcaster Sky which they succeeded with a bid of $39 billion. What these situations show is that they are quickly gaining more and more power and without Net Neutrality rules in place they will be able to prioritize their own services, while slowing down rivals or charging them a fee for access, which would harm competition.

Even now the Net Neutrality is being heavily debated and it’s not looking good for Net Neutrality supporters. Just recently some ISPs have attempted to remove a court ruling from 2016 supporting net neutrality but were denied, and during the midterm elections of 2018 U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn who supports paid fast lanes on the Internet won a U.S. Senate seat. On December 12, 2018 SMS and MMS text messaging was reclassified as a Title I “information service” rather than a Title II “telecommunications service”, which gives give wireless providers the power to block and censor text messages (Reardon). On December 13, 2018 Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, who was backed by Comcast agreed to sign the petition to bring back Net Neutrality after initially refusing to sign a discharge petition aimed at overturning the FCC decision to repeal Net Neutrality (Cameron).

If nothing is done Net Neutrality could eventually evolve into a much larger issue where large corporations have too much power and influence over the economy and politics. Just recently December 2018 President Trump gave large corporations such as Verizon a large tax cut and despite the favor Verizon killed over 10,000 jobs, or around 7 percent of its workforce while stating that it was necessary (Brodkin). As of right now it would seem like that a significant group of politicians are no longer representing us, the people, instead they are representing the large corporations behind them, according to a poll from University of Maryland among 75% of Republicans, 89% of Democrat, and 86% of independents opposed the repeal of Net Neutrality and despite such an overwhelming majority in favor of Net Neutrality, anti-Net Neutrality decisions seem to be a common occurrence (“Overwhelming Bipartisan”).

There are many claims that net neutrality could harm innovation and stifle growth across the entire economy. One such claim is from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, he claims that Net Neutrality has harmed many ISPs, especially small ones and according to a letter to the FCC sent by 60 major technology suppliers including IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, and Cisco, Title II regulation of the Internet ‘means that instead of billions of broadband investment driving other sectors of the economy forward, any reduction in this spending will stifle growth across the entire economy, but on June 27, 2017 the FCC received a letter from more than 40 ISPs stating that the open Internet rules have had no impact on their ability to grow (Falcon).

ISPs should not be allowed to throttle internet traffic however they like and the Internet is also much more complex than telecommunication and should not be regulated under title II of the Communications Act of 1934, instead the Internet should be placed under its own unique title. Net Neutrality is still a relatively new topic and is not an issue that will be solved anytime soon and with such polarity the best solution would be to come to compromise that both sides can agree with, but it would be best if an Open Internet could be restored.