Law Quarterly

Why We Need Net Neutrality

By Aaron Hill

Sep
27

Over the past few years there has been a great deal of discussion in the media about net neutrality. Unfortunately, many still don’t completely understand the issue and why it is so important for the average person. To begin, let’s examine the importance of the internet to everyday people. Broadly speaking, a lot of people take for granted how much the internet impacts their daily lives. Whether it’s checking social media, getting an Uber or Lyft, watching Netflix, or even ordering groceries, the internet is everywhere in the daily lives of people in developed nations. Without reliable, speedy internet many of these things that we take for granted would be far more difficult if not impossible to access. An example of this dependence is exemplified when your internet goes out for an extended period of time. In the day and age in which we live, this scenario is practically akin to how it was to lose power in your home in the 20th century. Whether we like it or not, not having speedy and accessible internet hampers our ability to do many of our ordinary daily activities.

Now that we’ve explored what the internet means to average people let’s investigate what it means for human progress in historical context. Firstly, consider how transformative another technological advancement was to our progress as a species. In the 15th century the printing press was invented and its effects are still being felt today. Never before in human history was information so easily transferable from place to place and from person to person. Without the printing press widespread literacy would be impossible, the reformation wouldn’t have occurred, and the ideals of the enlightenment wouldn’t have spread across vast continents. That is to say, our world would be dramatically different than it is today. The internet, without question, has the potential to be as transformative, if not more, than the printing press. Whereas the printing press made information transferable within cities and nations, the internet can reach the entirety of humanity, connecting people and ideas countless miles and nations apart. To an extent we’ve already seen glimpses of this potential to be a catalyst for revolutionary thought and action. Whether it was giving the world a first person view of the Arab Spring, being a platform for organizing the occupy movement, or even funding a grassroots U.S. presidential campaign, the internet has shown its capacity to change the world in the realm of politics.

Having established the broad importance of the internet, we can now explore net neutrality, what it means, and why it is so critical for the internet’s continued success. At its most basic level net neutrality means that the FCC regulates Internet Service Providers like Spectrum, Comcast, etc. and requires that all data that travels over their infrastructure equally. To demonstrate via an analogy let’s suppose you were using Facebook and I was watching a YouTube video on the same network. With net neutrality in place your Facebook data and my YouTube data couldn’t be given preferential treatment over each other by the network. Essentially, you and I would be treated equally and your Facebook data couldn’t be arbitrarily slowed or mine sped up or vice versa.

A question you might be having is why does this even matter? The reason why it’s important to average folks is because companies like Facebook, Google, Tinder, etc. would be directly impacted by the removal of these regulations. Without net neutrality these companies would be forced to compete against one another for preferential access and speed on the networks that connect their customers with their services. Essentially, what this means is that if a company such as Facebook were unable to secure a better connection than Netflix, their service would be slower and overall worse for the consumer. It is because of this that many of these large companies have stood up for net neutrality. For these companies fighting each other for premium access and speed would be another barrier to providing the goods and services that millions of people use daily. In addition to these large companies, many small start-ups are vocal supporters of net neutrality. For them net neutrality presents a fairer playing field for competition against established and powerful corporations.Throughout the past decade startup culture has been driven by the notion of “disruption,” that is to say, small companies have invented revolutionary products that challenge and overtake the status quo, despite their small size. With net neutrality in effect, these small startups have a much better chance at competing with the aforementioned established tech behemoths because their data cannot be given inherently inferior access due to their lack of funds. This is important for average people because services like Facebook and Uber used to be small startups who took on established companies and services and won through having a better product. Without a healthy startup culture protected by net neutrality the ability for the best product to win regardless of whether it came from a startup or an established company is threatened.

As I conclude, the reason why I’ve chosen to write this article and perhaps provide some illumination on the issue is because there is currently a debate going on at the FCC over the merits of net neutrality. Some people within that agency believe that net neutrality isn’t something worthwhile and will somehow hamper American business. People such as the chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, stand in opposition to net neutrality and earlier this year he moved to begin the dismantling of net neutrality in the United States.
This presents an opportunity for you to take direct action and effect the laws of our nation. I highly encourage you, the reader, to investigate the issue further and begin to do what you can to preserve what makes the internet we know today so great. Net neutrality has helped make the internet an instrumental and revolutionary part of our lives, and as such deserves legal protection. If interested in learning more please visit dearfcc.org or battleforthenet.com

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