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The Essentiality of Net Neutrality

(Hey, that title rhymes!)

Net neutrality, as defined by the ACLU, “means applying well-established “common carrier” rules to the internet in order to preserve its freedom and openness.”¹ In layman’s terms, this translates to disallowing Internet Service Providers (hereafter referred to as ISPs) from slowing, limiting, or otherwise interfering with your internet traffic. Net neutrality, as it exists in U.S. law today, is within the protections provided by Title II of the Communications Act of 1934,² which effectively classifies internet service as a public utility. Net neutrality is essential to future success of the United States of America in terms of the Internet,³ which is really the country as a whole, due to the role that technology plays in today’s society, because it promotes equality, enables the dispersion of ideas, and allows for technological innovation.

The first reason that net neutrality is essential is that it promotes equality — it ensures individuals aren’t discriminated against for any reason in terms of Internet service. In the relatively short history of the United States of America, one doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of discrimination⁴ — even the Civil War, a major historical event, was fought to preserve slavery, a prime example of extreme discrimination. As a result, laws and regulations that protect against modern examples of such moral turpitude are especially important, and should continue to be implemented. Though ISPs won’t necessarily be able to identify race in a user’s packets, potential “fast” and “slow lanes”⁵ will harm less affluent people most — those with more money will be able to afford a price increase to retain their current internet speed, while everyone else will be artificially limited to a much slower speed. It’s no secret that the wealthy are disproportionately white,⁶ so this effectively translates to white Americans getting better service than minority Americans.⁷

The second reason that net neutrality is essential is that it enables a dispersion of ideas — it is the modern world’s mechanism for free speech. Whether free speech be defined by articles in the New York Times or simply through an individual’s use of social media, it’s all an important part of today’s society. As the Supreme Court observed in Packingham v. North Carolina, the Internet “can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanism available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”⁸ Previous examples of such usage include “the Black Lives Matter movement,” which “used Twitter to help spark a national conversation on racial inequality,” or the Standing Rock Sioux, who used a variety of different platforms to “galvanize national support for their protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline and its threat to their drinking water.”⁹ All of these movements depended on different social media platforms, which in turn rely on the existence of open communications protocols” that allow for innovation “without having to ask permission from any company or government.”⁹ If ISPs were allowed to have free reign over the modern frontier, they’d be incentivized to side with the highest bidder (Dakota Access LLC, in this case), meaning groups like the Sioux might not be capable of spreading awareness about the environmental hazard the pipeline represented.

The third reason that net neutrality is essential to the success of the United States of America is that it promotes technological innovation. Without net neutrality, new startups would be at a severe disadvantage — incapable of competing with big corporations, as they’d be unable to foot the bill for “fast lanes,” and would almost certainly face discrimination from Internet Service providers receiving substantially larger amounts of money from well established companies.¹⁰ This would directly lead to a reduction in competition, which is widely recognized as a beneficial part of society’s capitalist system. As politicians are famous for saying, “small businesses are the backbone of America” It’s important to point out that, without exception, every company started small — even today’s Internet giants, like Google and Amazon who, as a result, support net neutrality.¹¹ When the companies that can foot the bills for such “fast lanes” speak up, it’s important to listen, because they’re not the ones going to be put out of business by such practices. It’s tough to understand where the argument that having net neutrality discourages innovation even comes from — it’s certainly not preventing investment into new broadband infrastructure — ISPs have already charged thousands per household for that supposed purpose, and yet across most of the country, today’s broadband is just as fast as it was in 1992.¹²

In about a week, the FCC will vote to decide whether net neutrality protections — like the Title II common carrier classification of broadband internet (which effectively classifies internet access as a public utility) — will remain in place or be discarded. If one were interested in what a system without such a concept might look like, they could look at the situation in Portugal, where, for example, an internet provider currently offers packages of data, where a user would buy a specific amount of data to be used with a specific set of services, like the “Video Package,” which applies to services like YouTube and Netflix, or the “Social Package,” which is for social media services.¹³ One can imagine the outcry in response to such a program in the United States. Net neutrality, which prevents things like that package system, is essential to future success of the United States of America in terms of the Internet, which is really the country as a whole, due to the role that technology plays in today’s society, because it promotes equality, enables the dispersion of ideas, and allows for technological innovation.

[1] “What Is Net Neutrality?” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed December 07, 2017, https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/internet-speech/what-net-neutrality.

[2] United States Congress House Committee on Commerce. Communications Act of 1934 as Amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Washington: U.S. G.P.O, 1996.

[3] Katrina Vanden Heuvel, “Net neutrality essential to our democracy,” The Washington Post, December 02, 2014, , accessed December 07, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/katrina-vanden-heuvel-net-neutrality-essential-to-our-democracy/2014/12/02/ab85a54e-799e-11e4-84d4-7c896b90abdc_story.html.

[4] Seabrook, Renita, and Heather Wyatt-Nichol. “The ugly side of America: Institutional oppression and race.” Journal of Public Management & Social Policy 23, no. 1 (2016): 3.

[5] Michael Weinberg, “Net Neutrality: How The FCC’s Proposed Fast Lanes Would Actually Work,” Public Knowledge, May 16, 2014, accessed December 07, 2017, https://www.publicknowledge.org/news-blog/blogs/how-the-fccs-proposed-fast-lanes-would-actually-work.

[6] Gradín, Carlos. “Poverty among minorities in the United States: Explaining the racial poverty gap for Blacks and Latinos.” Applied Economics 44, no. 29 (2012): 3793–3804.

[7] Christy M. Gamble and Carmen Scurato, opinion contributors, “Rolling back net neutrality would hurt minorities and low-income families,” TheHill, May 16, 2017, accessed December 07, 2017, http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/healthcare/333581-rolling-back-net-neutrality-would-hurt-minorities-and-low.

[8] Packingham v. North Carolina 582 U.S., 137 S. Ct. 1730 (2017)

[9] Corynne McSherry, “An Attack on Net Neutrality Is an Attack on Free Speech,” Eff.org, July 05, 2017, accessed December 06, 2017, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/06/attack-net-neutrality-attack-free-speech.

[10] Tiffany Hsu, “F.C.C. Plan to Roll Back Net Neutrality Worries Small Businesses,” The New York Times, November 22, 2017, accessed December 07, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/business/net-neutrality-small-businesses.html.

[11] Michael J. Coren, “Google and Amazon are fighting to save internet regulations that Trump says are killing business,” Quartz, July 12, 2017, accessed December 07, 2017, https://qz.com/1027755/net-neutrality-google-and-amazon-are-fighting-to-save-internet-regulations-that-trump-says-are-killing-business/.

[12] Bruce Kushnick, “The Book Of Broken Promises: $400 Billion Broadband Scandal And Free The Net,” The Huffington Post, September 17, 2014, , accessed December 07, 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-kushnick/the-book-of-broken-promis_b_5839394.html.

[13] Michael Hiltzik, “Portugal’s internet shows us a world without net neutrality, and it’s ugly,” Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2017, accessed December 06, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-portugal-internet-20171127-story.html.

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