Net Neutrality, the principle that says the Internet Service Providers should treat all content equally and not give preferences to select digital content providers, has been lost.
In layman terms, Net Neutrality simply means the consumer can load every website, video, app, gif, or any content on the internet evenly, regardless of where it is hosted. For instance, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) may not charge additional dollars for sites that stream movies or promote a specific agenda. This is also quite literally referred to as the ‘Open Internet’.
Initiated by the former President, Barrack Obama, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted, in the year 2015, to classify consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II Order of the 1934 Communications Act. “Under this law, the Federal Communications Commission adopted no-blocking, no-throttling and no-paid-prioritization rules” (Jacobson, 2017). Moreover, the passed law controls how companies provide services to consumers, and under the order, the Internet is considered a standard carrier or public utility; hence the Internet Service Providers are regulated. The supporters of the Title II classification say that the Order keeps the Internet open and accessible to every single individual, regardless of their socioeconomic status. In the absence of current regulations that were passed in 2015, the Internet Service Providers could easily add an extra fee to access specific sites and they may also censor specific contents that is otherwise impossible under ‘Net Neutrality’ provisions. In essence, the internet consumers would be paying more dollars to their Internet companies to use a less different and less exciting Internet.
Net Neutrality has become a political issue in the United States, and it is worth noting that on July 1, 2017, open internet supporters organized a day of mass action to protest against the decision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to roll back the Net Neutrality protections. Much of this support comes from the small industry players and low-income earners who have the most to lose. However, large companies such as Netflix, Google, and Twitter also signed on in support of the day of action. They state that the Federal Communications Commission should abandon its misguided quest to prevent all the effort and work that has been done on behalf of all the Internet consumers.
On the other side, the opponents of the current Title II argue that the regulations are unnecessary and hinder job creation and free market completion. For example, The Internet and Television Association (NCTA) claims that open Internet is good for the country. However, the organization is against the regulations passed in 2015 citing that the rules do not promote a free Internet. Net Neutrality does not allow the Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites that consumers use. The Net Neutrality rollback would not mean much in the short term, however over time, the Americans’ ability to watch what they want to watch online and to use the apps that they prefer could significantly change.
Millions of activists have pressured the Federal Communications Commission to adopt the Net Neutrality rules that keep the Internet free and open-allowing the American citizens to share and access information of their choosing without interference or restriction. However, currently, the Internet is in a grave danger as the end of Net Neutrality has some serious damage potential. On December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission Republican majority approved Chairman Ajit’s plan to gut the Net Neutrality protections.. As a former Verizon lawyer and a Trump appointee, Ajit Pai ignored all the widespread outcry against his plans from millions of Americans, lawmakers, companies, and public interest groups. This is the current buzz surrounding Net Neutrality, and these interested groups have vowed not to let Pai have the last word on the matter. They are calling on the Congress to use its powers and disapprove and overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to dismantle the Net Neutrality.
The Net Neutrality preserves the Americans’ right to communicate freely online. Net Neutrality protects and enables free speech. Just like your phone company should not get to decide who you call and what you say on the phone call, the ISPs should not get to interfere with the content the Americans view or post online. However, if the current Title II regulations are dismantled, companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T will be able to call the shots and decide which websites, applications, and content succeed in the network.
Besides, these ISPs would also be able to slow down their competitors’ content or block political opinions they disagree with. They can charge extra fees to few content companies and offer preferential treatment that would lead to more discrimination. The consequences would be especially devastating for the marginalized communities and media outlets. The people of color, indigenous communities, as well as the religious minorities in America, depend on Net Neutrality to organize, access economic and educational opportunities and more importantly fight back against the rising discrimination. Without Net Neutrality, the activists cannot be able to resist oppression or form social movements. The FCC is likely to face a legal challenge to the order, which has been attacked by companies such as Netflix, Bittorrent, Pinterest, Pornhub, Spotify and Wikipedia (Gambino & Rushe, 2017). Passing the vote is the latest controversial move made by Pai after relaxing local media ownership rules.