On Feb. 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reached a decision requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to uphold net neutrality. This is a big win, not only for the businesses that would have been directly affected had it not been upheld, but also for everyday internet-using Americans. Net Neutrality, or open internet, is the idea that ISPs should give the people access to all websites on an equal basis without speedier connection to some sources or blocking of others based on the prices those sites pay the ISPs.
The FCC vote classifies the internet as a public utility and ISPs will be considered common carriers, according to The New York Times. This means that ISPs will act like landline telephone lines, where the services are sold without interference. “Imagine if the phone company could mess with your calls every time you tried to order pizza from Domino’s, because Pizza Hut is paying them to route their calls first,” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a statement. If Hulu were to pay ISPs more money than Netflix, Hulu videos would load faster for viewers than Netflix’s videos would. Netflix may even be blocked completely to favor Hulu. Net neutrality prevents ISPs from doing just that.
Because the internet already operated in a somewhat net neutral fashion, the upholding of net neutrality will not affect UT internet. “We don’t believe there will be any impact,” Scott Thatcher, UT’s Director of Operations in the Office of Information Technology, said. “UT’s service is a commercial grade connection (different from consumer-grade service) that gives us substantially more bandwidth and the ability to regulate and prioritize our own usage to ensure optimal performance that meets the needs of the university community.” This means that UT’s wifi will pretty much stay the same.
Open Internet prohibits ISPs from charging websites for preferred delivery of their content on “fast lanes,” and deliberately slowing content from websites that compete with ISPs or can’t/won’t pay those extra costs, according to USA Today. This is helpful for startup businesses that can’t afford to pay for fast lanes. Without net neutrality, ISPs could slow down the websites of those startup businesses. If their content were slower, consumers would have a harder time accessing their information and choose to use businesses that pay for the fast lanes. Big companies would only get bigger and smaller companies would be smothered by the competition.
In a capitalistic society, it’s crucial that a consumer is able to research every product on the market to ensure that they’re getting the best deal, and not just buying what the ISP will permit them to look at. Capitalism is an economic system where goods are sold and consumers make decisions on what to purchase based on prices, production, and distribution of those goods. Without net neutrality, consumers would be unable to research the prices, production, and distribution of goods in order to make informed decisions. In addition, a lack of net neutrality theoretically could prevent any online business from functioning because someone can’t buy a product from a website if the website doesn’t even work.
The internet is a crucial outlet for freedom of expression promised by the First Amendment. Without net neutrality, any individual who doesn’t have the money to be represented would be unable to express themselves. Individual blogs can be blocked or slowed down just like business’ websites if the content of the blog went against the ideals that the ISP believed in. “The internet is the single most powerful technological invention in human history to democratize free speech… But powerful economic actors [the ISPs and other advocates against net neutrality] would like to undo the democratic nature of the internet. They would like to sell the privilege of having your voice heard more loudly than others. They would like to profit off of your ability to access the multitude of voices on the internet,” said UT Associate Sociology Professor, Bruce Friesen.
“Knowledge is power. Net neutrality helps ensure equal access to knowledge,” said Friesen. “Any functioning democracy requires an informed and educated electorate in order to operate effectively.” In the absence of net neutrality, ISPs would be able to control which sites are seen by users. This means they could bias the available information in favor of their motives and minimize the overall opinions being circulated.
ACLU’s legislative counsel Gabe Rottman said, “Americans use the Internet not just to work and play, but to discuss politics and learn about the world around them. The FCC has a critical role to play in protecting citizens’ ability to see what they want and say what they want online, without interference […]The main point is that the Internet, the primary place where Americans exercise their right to free expression, remains open to all voices and points of view.” Without net neutrality, if an ISP were to hold strong political views, opposing news articles could be deliberately slowed, skewing the perception of a topic to lead people to believe that there’s little to no opposition. Especially around election times, this would be detrimental to voters’ ability to make informed decisions about which candidates to vote for. Net neutrality is, therefore, “an excellent example of government of the people, by the people, and for the people, working on behalf of the people,” according to Friesen.
Net Neutrality is important for the upkeep of First Amendment Freedom of Expression, the ability to uphold a fair and open market in our capitalistic society, and the ability to access knowledge. This vote shows that our leadership cares about the issues that we the people find not only relevant, but important.
Liv Reeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.