Network Neutrality in the United StatesJoshua Dean
The debate over network neutrality laws in the United States has been a long and bitter one. The first bill was introduced into congress in 2006, The Internet Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, failed; just as every other bill that has been introduced since then. But what exactly is net neutrality? Why is it such a divisive topic?
Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers (ISPs) should not discriminate or favor one type of traffic over another in their routing. What does this mean in layman’s terms? This means that ISPs shouldn’t be able to charge more for access (or increased speeds) to certain websites or other internet services. Net neutrality is against the idea that ISPs should be able to implement a “tiered” internet plan, similar to plans in place for cable and satellite TV.
Currently, there is net neutrality in the United States, but there is no law enforcing it. It is the fear of some companies and consumer rights groups that telecommunications companies could begin implementing a tiered service structure. It is for this reason that there is a large push by several giants in the internet world, such as Google and Amazon, to pass legislation to make net neutrality the de facto law of the land. Net neutrality legislation has met fierce opposition, mainly from large telecommunications companies that want the ability to impose such a pricing scheme if they want. It has also came under fire from conservatives and libertarians because they say that it will allow government control, and censorship, of the internet.
Should we have a net neutrality law though? Which side of the debate gives a better argument? In my opinion, I think that a well written, flexible net neutrality law is needed to keep the internet the same place that we know and love. What do I mean by flexible and well-written? I mean that the law must be written so that it fosters the internet, both today and in the future. This means that the law needs to be able to adapt to changing conditions to the internet, but still remain useful. It also must be written intelligently enough that it does not keep the ISPs from doing security and safety routing of their traffic.
Normally I am against the government interfering too much with private businesses, but I believe that in this case it is warranted. The internet is the largest repository of information that the world has ever known, it has given untold numbers of people access to knowledge that they would never have known otherwise. It has changed the nature of communication so completely in less than 20 years that it almost makes the quick adoption of older technologies like electricity, phones, radios, and telephones seem slow in comparison. Do we want our access to this amazing resource to be left solely in the hands of a few corporations that seek to limit our ability to use the internet to its fullest, unless we, and the websites, pay them more money?
Right now, my family pays $60 for our internet access. The internet that we get is the exact same as the internet that the person down the street gets, or the person in Florida, or Alaska, or Britan, or Africa. All of that is thanks to net neutrality. Without it, I would have to pay more, probably a lot more, to get the same service that I am receiving now. The person down the street might get access to sites that I can’t, because I am not paying for them, or maybe it is the other way around. I think that would be a travesty of the highest order if that happened. The bad part of it is, it could happen at any time, and with there being no law against it, and there being very few choices between ISPs in most communities, there is very little that the consumers could do about it. It would not be as simple as switching ISPs, many communities only have access to one or maybe two different providers, and so their choice is severely limited. They could either accept the tiered plan, or not have internet access at all.
I also object to some conservative commentators likening net neutrality to government takeover of the internet. A well-written bill would give the FCC or equivalent agency power only to fine or otherwise punish ISPs that are found to be acting against net neutrality principles. How is that a government takeover of the internet? Chuck Palm, in a nigh-incomprehensible recent article published on Glenn Beck’s website (cited below), makes the claim that net neutrality is a takeover of the World Wide Web (he keeps pointing out that word, I guess because it shows a liberal conspiracy to create a New World Order) by the US government, and that it will actually hurt the companies and “Grandma”. He goes on to claim the reason that large internet companies are for this service (like Google, Amazon, Ebay, and Yahoo) is because they are huge bandwidth hogs, and so that they would benefit most from this. He seems to ignore the fact though that regular consumers would be receive HUGE benefits from continued net neutrality, namely, they would continue to receive high-quality, unlimited internet access, instead of a crippled, expensive service like the big ISP companies are wanting to switch to.
One thing that I find very ironic when opponents of net neutrality say that it will cause government censorship of the internet, yet they remain mute in the wake of the Homeland Security Administration (!) seizing the domains of over 70 websites in the past weeks, most o them having nothing to do with national security, instead they were file sharing sites, or search engines. But it is all for national security right? Don’t want those nasty pirates stealing the RIAA’s music!
We need sane, and well defined laws protecting user’s access to the internet. NOT ill written regulation that gives government entities power to control the information on the internet.With the recent power shift in congress it is unlikely that any type of net neutrality will be passed anytime soon. That does not mean that the debate will not continue to rage both in and out of Washington. Hopefully someday, before it is to late, a net neutrality law will be passed. Until that day, consumers must be proactive in letting both their congressmen and ISPs know that they will not stand for a tiered internet access system.