Author Archives: Callie Ross Smith

Net Neutrality

The internet acts as a utility that connects millions of people. Each internet user is connected through the system which is provided by one’s internet service provider. As it stands, the data flows around and moves freely, and there is no one entity in the United States who controls this massive information current. By paying a fee to internet service providers, (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T, users get access to this network. The current system runs off the principle of net neutrality, the idea that ISPs must provide fair access to all the internet at consistent speeds, no matter the content or business ties they may have.

Currently, net neutrality is threatened. On Dec. 14, the FCC will vote on whether or not the Obama Administration rules on the protection of net neutrality should be overturned. There is a high likelihood that the FCC will end net neutrality, because of heavy lobbying from the three major ISPs. Comcast alone spent $1.7 million from 2016-2017 for lobbying on Capitol Hill against net neutrality. Back when the rules protecting net neutrality were put into place, the FCC was controlled by Democrats, but that has since changed with the Trump presidency, which is generally against keeping the internet free.

Without net neutrality, broadband companies would be able to influence their customers’ access to websites by having the right to completely block them, because they are a competitor, or slowing down the streaming speeds of websites so that that company would have to pay more to access higher bandwidth speeds. If companies were allowed to interfere with internet access, they would be able to monetize both the user trying to access the internet and the companies trying to get people to use their service. The Big Three ISPs believe that they should be able to do this because the internet content creator companies, such as Netflix, take up to 30% of the total internet bandwidth and should, therefore, be forced to pay for the upkeep of the infrastructure. This is thought to be fair since the companies are participating in the free market, and the cost of upgrading the system to expand the bandwidth should not be left on the users.

The internet is a massive social and cultural achievement that allows humans unprecedented access to information. Besides giving a small number of companies the power to freely expand the maturing internet system, no net neutrality would also mean that these certain companies could also put speed bumps or roadblocks to the internet where they deem necessary. Allowing private companies that are only interested in increasing their profits to act as gatekeepers, would destroy the current level of freedom that the internet has. With no net neutrality, big ISPs could favor websites they have business ties with, and slow their competitors down. Competition is what keeps any market healthy.

Most Americans don’t have any choice but to deal with these slowed down speeds since the majority of people have access to only one high-speed internet provider. If Comcast or Verizon were able to deter competition, there wouldn’t be anything stopping them from blocking content or messages that they don’t support. The internet would be shaped in a way that is solely beneficial to them. Websites would not be the only thing affected either. In 2012, AT&T slowed bandwidth speeds to people using Apple’s FaceTime. There would be nothing from stopping AT&T from doing something similar again. Such a powerful invention should not be turned into a business model.

California Congressman Eric Swalwell, who represents the majority of Alameda County, is outraged that the FCC wants to, “.. tip the internet’s scales toward the wealthy & powerful.” The protection of net neutrality keeps the playing field fair for both businesses and everyday users. If losing your current internet access outrages you, contact your representative by phone, email, letter, in person, on social media, or through a pigeon messenger. Every single voice does make a difference. Congress cannot make decisions with the FCC, but it can pass bills to intervene with the FCC’s decision.

The freedom to watch as much cat videos as one wants at 3 a.m. is what makes the internet great. Having only a small handful of companies controlling a massive part of data just because they act as the middlemen to the access of this data, does not make sense. The internet has been in control of the masses for all of its existence, and it has grown up just fine without interference. Gatekeeping the internet should never be profit-driven, and whoever does control it, should always have the interests of the people who expand its content in mind.