Net Neutrality: Good for the Average Consumer?

It truly is amazing just how young the internet is. Considering how much technology and the World Wide Web has ingrained itself into our daily routine, it’s interesting to think that terms like “WiFi” and “Apps” have only been popularized in the past decade or so. What was once thought of as just a “trend” that would eventually die off in the late 90s and early 2000s (along with VHS tapes and Pogs) the internet has evolved into a creature of it’s own, with many saying that the state of the future may depend on its development and advancements. The evidence is evident even now, with people becoming more aware of the news through websites, which led to newspaper outlets having to change it’s format on how it distributes the news. People are more connected through social media as well. Sharing videos, music, and other forms of media much more efficiently through the net. This causing businesses such as Blockbuster and other video rental spots to close down due to the popularity of sites such as Netflix, Hulu, and a plethora of other websites that provide movie streaming at a highly competitive price. Knowing this, the potential of the internet has intrigued many business both big and small. The internet can definitely help boost profits when used right, but who is regulating the internet and making sure that people don’t make things unfair for everyone else?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are the ones given this task. A private independent agency whose job is to regulate communication through wires, cable, radio, television, and satellite. They focus primarily on public safety, homeland security, competition, and modernization. Recently, competition has been the hot topic of debate. News outlets have accused many large corporations of skewing things on the internet to benefit their business, resulting in an unbalanced playing field for smaller companies on the net. The FCC has been thoroughly trying to manage and create rules to prevent corporations from taking advantage of the internet. This is why a set of principles and restrictions known as “Net Neutrality” were made and has recently been in hot debate due to the drastic change in the political climate.

But what is Net Neutrality exactly? Well to put it simply, the term “Net Neutrality” is a phrase used to describe principles. Similar to how the Ten Commandments is a name for a certain set of principles laid out in the bible on “how to be a good person”, Net Neutrality is similar in a sense (there’s also a lot more than just ten rules) but more so about defining and managing what is “fair” to do online. There’s also the term “Net Neutrality Law” which refers to actual laws in place that contain principles of Net Neutrality. If we are to refer back to the Ten Commandments analogy, Net Neutrality the principle would be similar to someone saying “Thou shalt not commit adultery” versus Net Neutrality Law which would be the same as actually making adultery illegal.

Will strengthening Net Neutrality be better for the average consumer? Well one of the biggest principles of Net Neutrality is preventing internet service providers (ISP) to engage or manipulate the choices you make online. For example: if Comcast were to own Netflix, Comcast without Net Neutrality in place could hypothetically slow down other video sites such as Hulu or Youtube so much that more people would go to Netflix more often for entertainment. Thus resulting in sites like Youtube or Hulu to never flourish like how it is now, or other big companies that started off small such as Facebook. The worse part is that even if they were caught, they would most likely be able to get away with it. Net Neutrality is there to help create a level playing field and prevent big companies to undermine smaller ones before taking off. However, despite how pro consumer Net Neutrality restrictions seem to be, many have been questioning its effect and legal standings. This conflict has given birth to largely debated questions towards the policies of Net Neutrality and whether the government should target and regulate internet service providers. Ironically, many internet service providers have shown support for Net Neutrality despite the blatant history of these services taking advantage of their control on internet speeds. In an article posted by TIME magazine writer Gustin (2014) he describes the deal Netflix made with Comcast and how much faster performance has become as a result:

“Netflix streams are up 65 percent causing Comcast to jump six spots higher on the list — leapfrogging Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T U-verse and other providers — — and its customers are seeing the best Netflix performance in 16 months. The performance boost comes after a precipitous decline in Netflix speeds for Comcast subscribers that began last fall, leading to numerous complaints about service quality.”

The deal between the two large corporations has added even more fuel to a fiery debate about net neutrality since it is hard proof that Comcast can clearly adjust the bandwidth speeds based on their stances politically or financially. In fact, the broadband speeds of Netflix dipped at a massive rate during negotiations (mentioned in the quote above from TIME magazine) which may have led to Netflix succumbing to a deal that they may have not fully been satisfied with. This is a clear example of an internet service provider using their ability to control internet speeds to strong arm another company into a deal they may or may not be fully satisfied with.

The black line represents Netflix speeds Comcast users were experiencing throughout 2013 and spring of 2014. Take note of how much it dips near fall and winter of 2013 (Arguably Netflix’s two most important seasons) when Comcast and Netflix were arguing over an “access fee” that Comcast wanted Netflix to pay for. Interestingly enough, it starts rising again in January 2014 when Netflix succumbed to Comcast’s demands.

Despite various examples of these type of things happening throughout the past decade, many still believe that Net Neutrality is restricting freedoms and will lead to the government over regulating the internet. In article by CNN writer Pagliery (2015) writes about the U.S Telecom Association claiming that “the FCC is calling on outdated monopoly rules written in 1934 to establish its net neutrality rules” she also quotes U.S Telecom executive Jon Banks saying “the new rules are a departure from the FCC’s previous light-touch approach, which led to a decade of amazing innovation and investment.” It’s evident that those who oppose Net Neutrality believe that government regulations are too restrictive and accuse of the government of not understanding how the modern day market works when it comes to the internet. That the growth that existed before the restrictions were in place was caused as a result of the lack of restrictions.

Regardless on the stance a person may have on this debate, it’s clear that Net Neutrality will play a major role in how the internet will develop in the future and how we use it. With a new presidential administration, the roster of people assigned to manage Net Neutrality are vastly different than the ones we had in the last few years (whom opted to strengthen Net Neutrality). The continuous changes being made in these next few months have worried many and despite the amount of news being spread about the upcoming revisions the FCC might make, many still do not understand the level of importance Net Neutrality has. More people need to be aware of it’s existence and really begin to acknowledge the importance of this before we all end up with an internet that’s unfair, unusable, and out of control.

Sources

Gustin, S. (2014, April 14). Netflix Speeds Jump 65% For Comcast Users After Streaming Deal. Retrieved October, 2017, from http://time.com/62903/netflix-comcast-speed-boost/

Pagliery, J. (2015, March 24). Verizon and AT&T-backed trade group sues government over net neutrality. Retrieved October, 2017, from http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/24/technology/net-neutrality-telecom-lawsuit/index.html

Also read: The Many Opinions Towards Net Neutrality

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