Net Neutrality: Is It Needed?

Last week the FCC overturned an Obama era decision regarding net neutrality, a decision that has polarized politicians and the public. Despite the fervor and debate, there is some confusion regarding what net neutrality means and ensures for the consumer, if anything.

As with any heated debate, there is information both for and against net neutrality. So how does one decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing for the internet?

Basic Terms

First, let’s go over some basic terms that are part of the discussion. Here are a few more concepts.

Open Internet: this philosophy assumes full resources of the entire internet should be easily accessible to all individuals, companies, and organizations. Basic premises include open standards, transparency, lack of internet censorship, and low barriers to entry.

Closed Internet: As one can guess, this is the opposite situation where certain persons, corporations, or governments favor users, restrict access, artificially degrade services, or filter out content.

Dumb Network: The concept of a dumb network or dumb pipe shares a reference to water supply under city streets. Pipe is laid to carry water to all users equally, regardless of user activity or identity. Net neutrality argues for a dumb network with smart terminals limiting access based on paid services.

Traffic Shaping: also referred to as throttling, this is improved performance in certain areas by delaying certain data packets or reducing bandwidth for certain data, such as video streaming or file sharing. Throttling can occur through bandwidth control, rate control, or by using complicated algorithms.

Over-provisioning: in simple terms, this is allowing for extra bandwidth during times of peak performance by overestimating the use needed. This is used primarily in private networks.

Arguments for net neutrality

Proponents for net neutrality argue the internet should be a place of open exchange, free from censorship and corporate priorities. Currently, the internet is not censored nor is there a cost to go onto the internet.

In other words, an individual can set up a website, perform the necessary SEO and content needs, and their website can be found by anyone at any time. Though there are domain costs and package costs, depending on the website host, the website itself is available to anyone who searches for that information or product.

Similarly, through net neutrality access to the internet is relatively equal. Although there are tiered programs regarding Internet Service Provider (ISP) access and speed, once an individual is connected they are not limited beyond the speed of their preferred package.

Nor is data limited. Speed will differ depending on accessibility and tier, but YouTube and other streaming services are as available as email and standard websites. There is no limitation or restriction based on the type of data users access.

The attempts of net neutrality regulations are to ensure, via regulatory oversight by the FCC, that companies such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T (to name only a few) do not discriminate against data, content, or access. Meaning companies cannot charge websites for accessibility from their ISP, nor can they throttle certain data segments or certain users from accessing paid bandwidth.

Arguments against net neutrality

One of the largest arguments against the regulation is the internet existed for nearly 15 years without regulatory oversight. Net neutrality is relatively new compared to the internet, having been implemented entirely in 2015. The argument is why fix something that is not broken.

Similarly, with net neutrality companies have little to no vested interest in innovating or increasing access to the internet. One frequently noted point to this is AT&T halted improvements to their lines when net neutrality was being debated, refusing to invest when they were unsure the regulations. If companies cannot be guaranteed a return on their investment, there is little purpose to investing.

Detractors of net neutrality believe regulatory oversight limits competition rather than opening the playing field. Starting an ISP, or getting into an area underserved, has a larger cost when having to pay more upfront.

And while both sides argue this same point, detractors point out companies with money already have better servers. This enables better ability to push out their information on the internet. Removing net neutrality would not change the fact that large companies can already be more accessible than their smaller entrepreneur versions.

In fact, they argue regulations strangle entrepreneurs. They state fees, taxes, and tiered systems prevent level playing fields that are not level anyway.

Current standing

As we know, the FCC voted 3 – 2 to overturn net neutrality regulations. Though this is hardly the end of the discussion. State Attorney Generals plan on filing lawsuits, all with discrimination and concerns highlighted.

The larger concern for pro net neutrality groups is large companies will now control content, will be able to censor, and will have the ability to charge entities for access to the end user. YouTube will likely be affected, due to high bandwidth use for it’s videos. Similarly, other streaming services either must pay ISPs for access or suffer having slower speeds and user frustration. Information companies disagree with may come under censorship, never seeing an end user.

Yet anti net neutrality proponents point out none of those things happened before the regulation. These are nightmare what-ifs that rarely come to light. However, these are regulations the American consumer is used to. Our phone companies do not restrict who we call based on their provider because of regulations and oversight.

At the end of the day, the question is if we want ISPs to be like phone companies. Or do we want to allow them freedom like satellite and cable providers.

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