On Dec. 14, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on Chairman Ajit Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” a vote that will decide whether or not the FCC will repeal net neutrality legislation.
Rules that were put in place under the Obama Administration prevented internet providers from prioritizing or restricting access to content online. This is called net neutrality. Specifically, net neutrality prevents bundling of websites or types of websites by internet service providers (ISPs) for additional fees like segmenting an internet bill into video services, social media and gaming, similar to how TV packages are set up. This also prevents ISPs from slowing down the time it takes for certain websites to load and cause websites to pay for prioritization of speed and downloads.
While the majority of outrage surrounding a potential repeal of net neutrality is focused on preventing bundling services because of the potential increase in total cost to the end user, the prioritization and slowing of websites is much more detrimental to the very nature of how the internet operates.
As it stands now, the internet is a platform where anyone can create, build and grow with no restrictions other than how hard they work. There are no financial barriers to success. Without net neutrality, ISPs could require content creators to pay for the speed at which their content is loaded, creating a financial barrier between new creators and their audiences. This removes the ability for anyone to start a career or create something new online. There could be a necessary financial investment just to get a website to load at a normal speed removing the ability for free content creation.
ISPs could also create contracts with certain services that would prevent users with that service provider from having a choice in which online services they want to use. If Spectrum signs a deal with Netflix they could prevent any Spectrum subscriber from having access to Hulu or Amazon Prime Video. Contracts and back-end deals could remove the complete freedom of choice that internet users currently have. ISPs can create online monopolies by preventing competitors’ sites from being able to load.
This problem is exacerbated by the monopolies ISPs currently hold in certain areas of the U.S. Most Americans only have access to one ISP where they live, so if these back-end deals take place, they wouldn’t have the option to choose which ISP best fits their needs. If Comcast is the ISP in your area then you have no choice but to use Comcast and whatever services Comcast has deals with.
The removal of net neutrality is much worse than a more expensive monthly bill due to service bundling. This could devastate small businesses and content creators online and fundamentally change the freedom the internet has. Many of the largest services and platforms on the internet were only able to be created and find success because of net neutrality.
If net neutrality is successfully repealed, there needs to be additional legislation introduced to prevent the misuse of controlling content.
Without some level of limitation on this, ISPs could also influence the content of information individuals receive. That could be as positive as removing cyber-bullying and hateful comments or as negative as controlling the proliferation of political commentary and influencing voters’ minds. There needs to be some form of regulation over how much control ISPs can have over the content the end user receives.