Net neutrality seems to be the latest buzz word floating around the news these days. Just the other day, I was talking about our class to a friend, explaining what ED 654 is all about, and his reply was that our class must be “so interesting” because of all the talk of net neutrality in the news. “Yes, of course, it’s very interesting,” I replied. But I wasn’t sure how to respond to that statement about net neutrality because I don’t know much about it. This article from Free Press kicked off my search and research for what net neutrality is and why it should concern me, my family, and my country.
To my understanding, net neutrality is an umbrella term for internet equality or discrimination-free internet. According to Wikipedia, the phrase was coined in 2003 by a law professor at Columbia University as an extension to the concept of a common carrier, which is a carrier that delivers goods to a vast amount of people without discrimination. A common carrier (also known as a public carrier in the U.K.) are things like bus lines, railroad lines, airplanes, taxi cabs, telephone providers and internet providers. Private carriers, on the other hand, are able to pick and choose their customers.
So basically, a country with strong net neutrality rules means that when I sit down at my computer, I can expect the following: my internet provider will not block content just because it doesn’t agree with a content provider, it will not block access to content as long as it’s legal content, and it will not determine who I can call or what I can say on the internet as long as it’s legal. From what I’ve read, Obama-era net neutrality rules prevented big internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, from playing favorites with content providers or blocking content or disrupting internet speed to its customers. But with Trump in the White House, those rules are in danger of a face lift. This article from the University of New Hampshire spells out why net neutrality has become such a big debate with relevant articles.
If you really feel like diving in deep to this subject, check out the Federal Communication Commission’s new proposal for rolling back net neutrality rules. The 58-page document is titled Restoring Internet Freedom, a title in which many people might find contradictory. What does the FCC define as “freedom.” Does it mean an open, do-what-you-want internet freedom? Or does it mean patriotism freedom? One of the new rules would allow the FCC to police the privacy practice of internet providers. This may sound stupid, but I’ve watched enough House of Cards episodes to read between the lines here. The Federal Government wants more control of the internet. Perhaps our internet future in the United States is leaning toward the internet situation in China. Or perhaps that’s a conspiracy thing for me to write. As we saw in the 2016 presidential elections, controlling public opinion can — and will be done — via the World Wide Web.
One of the real questions I found out there is whether or not the internet should be treated as a public utility. Should corporations like Comcast (the biggest internet provider in the U.S.) treat the internet like water, gas, electricity, and garbage? Larry Downes wrote an interesting opinion piece in the Washington Post that says treating the internet as a public utility would be bad for consumers. It would create less and less innovation. The Verge’s Nilay Patel begs to differ, arguing there is no question it should be treated as a public utility. I read both arguments and both make valid points, but I believe the internet should be treated as a public utility. Name one business that can function without the internet. None. Businesses and the common consumer doesn’t want to have to think about its connection. They just want the internet to work and remain affordable. It seems that as long as internet providers are out to make a profit, internet bills will keep going up and up.
In conclusion, I enjoyed exploring the topic of net neutrality. I feel more informed about the politics behind the internet, but also feel there is so much more to explore. I do think net neutrality is an extremely relevant topic for this class. It should be a requirement for all students to explore.