Net neutrality is not dead, but it should be
Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 22:01
Net Neutrality has been a hot topic as of late, but it would seem to be much ado about nothing. Although net neutrality—the concept stating that all content on the internet should be treated equally—was struck down by United States Court of Appeals. There is little reason to believe the sky is falling or that the internet as we know it is doomed.
First and foremost, it’s not the concept of net neutrality that was ruled against. Instead as the ruling stated, “even though the Commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates.” What is being called a defeat for a free and open internet is surly a win for democracy. The United States of America establishes laws via the democratic process. Net neutrality—in the form it existed—was a subversion of that very democracy. It’s not for the FCC—the same FCC responsible for censoring the media—to arbitrarily establish policy through the federal bureaucracy. That is what this court case has ruled. If at any time the proponents of net neutrality want to make a case through the legislative process they are free to do so.
Second, many of the problems envisioned by proponents of net neutrality are not guaranteed to materialize and are hyperbolic in nature. For example, the accusation that carriers will now censor the internet by slowing down access to certain content they don’t agree with or by not providing said content altogether. This seems unlikely as consumers would be outraged, and rightly so. Most people would simply switch carriers when presented with this situation. An obvious rebuttal being that in some areas there are not multiple providers. While this is true it stands to reason that Internet Service Providers or ISPs wouldn’t have much to gain from censoring small rural towns in New Mexico. As long as competition remains fierce in areas of concentrated population the internet will remain largely undisturbed.
Question, why shouldn’t Google pay up? Comcast provides a service to its customers, and those costumers pay for that service. In a way though, Comcast and other ISPs also provide Google with a service. According to the “Wallstreet Journal’s” Market Watch, Google made almost 30 billion dollars in 2012. While I applaud Google’s efforts, it contributes nothing to the ISPs, and therefore contributes nothing to the construction or maintenance of the Internet’s fundamental infrastructure. Or at least that’s the position of French technology minister Fleur Pellerin who, according to the “Walstreet Journal,” is trying to make companies like Google pay. Had it been the government who constructed and maintained the Internet’s infrastructure many in the net neutrality crowd would be calling for these large companies to, “Pay their fair share.”
Furthermore, it’s not evident that net neutrality is a harmless proposal in and of itself. One of the concepts behind net neutrality is that all content should be treated equal. Meaning that ISPs shouldn’t be able to charge websites different rates for different speeds. The fear being that large companies will pay while small websites will be slowed down. On the flip side, if Comcast builds a new fiber-optic cable that provides faster services, why shouldn’t they be allowed to charge for the use of a superior product?
The absence of these policies in the developing world has been beneficial in many cases. In countries like the Philippines and Kenya, companies such as Google and Facebook have both struck deals with ISPs to provide access to some of their content free of data charges. This gives the people who need it most free access to so a wide array of services including email, search results and social networking. All thanks to what amounts to a major violation of the basic principles behind net neutrality.
It’s not corporations that are a threat to a free and open internet. The government remains the only organization capable of censoring or damaging the internet for its own benefit. Any attempts to point the finger at industry is a distraction from that fact.