In today’s divisive political scene, most issues seem to be “hot button” issues, so it can feel overwhelming when trying to find common ground. An issue near and dear to us is net neutrality, which can be confusing at first glance, but is in jeopardy due to the recent attempt to repeal Internet privacy protections. We will be following up on this issue in the next few weeks, but first we wanted to offer an explanation of why net neutrality is so important.
What exactly is net neutrality?
It is the “principle that Internet Service Providers (ISP) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites”. The idea that any content or application would be blocked or favored came out of a fear of censorship based on financial opportunity. If the net is not neutral, then any one source could be favored over another based on that source’s ability to pay for accessibility, and then they can control what information is seen or not seen.
Why is this issue important right now?
In 2015, the FCC passed regulations which kept ISP’s from slowing or blocking legal content, or for content providers to pay ISP’s to alter the speed of their services. One thing it did allow, however, was “fast lanes” for certain exceptions, such as public services. It also allows for some zero-rating (allowing customers to consume content without it counting against their data plan) on case by case scenarios. Neither of these practices are widely used, but with the current regulations, they are seemingly kept in check. Since the new administration has taken over, it’s not clear if these regulations will be kept. The president has not supported net neutrality in the past, and some on his FCC transition team are former employees of the large ISP companies. These facts lead most to believe that the regulations will not stay in effect for much longer.
Those in favor of net neutrality cite freedom of expression, unfettered access to content, and that it promotes competition and innovation across the web as reasons to keep the regulations intact. Those against net neutrality feel that by removing these regulations, the ISP’s could optimize the flow of Internet traffic, which would result in better performance, and that it would also promote better infrastructure for the Internet as a whole.
There is also the camp that is against government oversight in general, believing that corporations would be better equipped to regulate their own businesses. This however, could be a slippery slope – while there is currently no reason to charge individuals or small businesses higher prices for Internet access, there would be no rules to keep that from happening. Eliminating regulations would also allow ISP’s to potentially double charge for Internet services: one to the user and one to the content creator. As users and creators lose their ability to afford premium services, they lose access, viewers, and advertisers, which in turn leads to the inability to create or view new content. This snowball effect essentially stifles any competition, and leads to monopolization of the Internet by those who are wealthy enough to afford to either view it or create the content themselves.
In the end, proponents of each side feel adamant that theirs is the right way. Therefore, it remains a very important issue, as the outcome will affect our daily life and how we operate our business. In our estimation, keeping the net neutrality regulations intact will allow users to access information without censorship and promote innovation for content creators.
Allowing a monopoly of the web could never be an advantage for individuals or small businesses, unless they have the funding to access premium services. In today’s disparate world that is ever evolving in regard to how technology and information are interrelated, this is one issue that needs a common ground so that knowledge is never far from our reach. Check in next week for our follow up article about how repealing Internet privacy regulations and selling private information will affect your business.
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