Why Net Neutrality Matters

The Internet has become a modern-day communications utility, every bit as essential as the land-line telephone or (further back) the telegram. Just try to get any kind of work done today without web access. Good luck — you’ll need it.

Officially the Internet is not a utility, at least in the United States. Even though it should be seen as such, the main players are private companies who build the pipes that make the web work. More conservative members of the Federal Communications Commission would like to let market forces regulate the Internet market to the greatest extent possible. This begins with current Chairman Ajit Pai, who would like to scrap the so-called “net neutrality” rules adopted two years ago.

Net neutrality is the principle that web service providers must treat all content equally. Once you build the pipes — the tubes that make the Web — everything can course through those pipes at equal speed. As soon as you allow providers to pick and choose what types of content can move through the web faster than others, that’s a recipe for monopoly (Comcast can privilege Comcast content, for example) and censorship.

The case against net neutrality is that the rules are overly onerous and will discourage new investment in expanding Internet connectivity. That may be true in select cases, but the facts are ambiguous. And this could be solved with even stronger regulations that ensured everyone had access to broadband coverage throughout America — if we so desired. But if we are going to let the market work its will thanks to an excessive belief in the invisible hand, at least the regulation that all content has an equal right of passage should stand.

This is because consumers should decide what content online becomes successful, not Internet companies. The FCC presents its proposed action as a tribute to the free market, but it is really a sop for major Internet companies. Net neutrality matters, and it is worth preserving.

That is why today, July 12, is net neutrality day. The FCC is taking comments on its proposed new regulations until July 17.

Speak up. Speak now. Make your voice heard.