Last January 14, 2014, a Washington D.C. court ruled out the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation on Open Internet or more popularly known as net neutrality. The decision on the case sparked debate between those fighting for net neutrality and the companies who want to take advantage of the internet’s popularity. This was a victory for Verizon, an Internet Service Provider, and other companies like it. In her article, Net Not Free for All, Aviva Rutkin writes that “information will no longer be free, but governed by the whims of big business” (Rutkin 24). She is right. These big companies will be able to make more profit by charging for faster service. And, on the other hand, the verdict is considered a loss for internet-based companies, especially start-up businesses, who will have to pay to keep the quality of their products up or it will lead to decline in customers therefore losing more profit. Sooner or later, this power play will affect the regular internet users who will end up paying more to use specific services that will require high-speed connection. Net neutrality contributed to the world’s modernization, protected internet users’ rights and kept business opportunities equal for both small and big companies therefore it is important that it is re-established and maintained.
The principle of net neutrality has been present since the internet was invented in 1989. In a video posted on The Guardian, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, spoke about how he had created the internet to be an “open, neutral system” (“World”). And, with that in mind, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the Open Internet Rules. This was set to ensure that the World Wide Web “remains a powerful platform for innovation and job creation; to empower consumers and entrepreneurs; to protect free expression to promote competition” (“Open”). The first part of the Open Internet Rules call for transparency on how business is conducted by broadband providers and how they advertise their services (“Open”). The next part restricts these providers from blocking content that does not violate any law and does not pose any harm to the users (“Open”). Lastly, the third rule states that there should be “No Unreasonable Discrimination” in the dissemination of “lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service” (“Open”). And, in the battle for regaining the neutrality of the internet, this rule preventing discrimination is being violated. If the Commission will not be able to make amends on this matter, it will be “the little guys” who will be affected by the unfavorable consequences that will result from this business move (Rutkin 24).
The modern world reaps from the benefits of the internet’s neutrality every day, may it be through video streaming, web browsing, downloading, social networking, emailing or other ways. And, now that net neutrality has been put down, there are no stopping Internet Service Providers from charging extra for faster internet speed. The services for those who will not pay or cannot afford to pay will be anything, but satisfactory. For those fighting for the re-establishment of net neutrality, this is “the harbinger of dark times for our connected world” (Rutkin 24) Since the internet plays a vital role in modern-day society, when changes are made due to the abolition of net neutrality, the world will be badly affected. It will be a nightmare for this fast-paced world where the society demands fast service.
Rutkins quoted digital rights advocate, Bartees Cox, when she wrote that “The internet was supposed to be this great equalizer. It didn’t matter where you lived or how wealthy you are” (24). Until the recent win for Verizon, there was a democratic value to the internet that a lot of users do not necessarily think about. The World Wide Web promoted freedom of speech where people were able to post their ideas and opinions freely. It also allowed the freedom to search and use the internet without any restriction. It served as platform for creativity, allowing what used to be ideas into reality and it paved the way to countless inventions. Lastly, it provided leisure through countless different ways for its users. Capping internet speed for those who cannot pay will be infringing the rights of these individuals, the right to be treated equally, despite economic status, the right to speak and leisure.
As a result of the invalidation of the Open Internet Rules, Comcast sealed a deal with online movie streaming company, Netflix, for faster internet speed for their subscribers last February (Wyatt B1). This is proof that net neutrality is indeed gone. Netflix is a giant company who is able to pay Comcast’s rate. But what will happen to small businesses that will not be able to afford this fee? The connection for these companies will be slow which will frustrate customers and eventually will lead to loss of business. Once again, Aviva Rutkin quotes Bartees Cox, “If the internet is only available in high-priced bundles, then people will be restricted to what they can afford” (24).
In the Great Net Debate, those against net neutrality claims that this rule was stopping the development of new services and if users will pay the fees for faster connection, there will be more money to invest in new technologies (Progue 36). There will be more money for Internet Service Providers’ pockets to spend on innovations that will benefit only those who can afford them. Only a handful will benefit from this move and the rest will have to settle for bad quality connection or opt to not use the internet at all. There will be a decline in internet usage that will lead to loss of business not only for small businesses, but for these broadband providers as well. Internet Service Providers need to consider the long-term result of this business move. Aviva Rutkin writes that “if such conflicts aren’t resolved, things could get ugly”(24). Everyone, even the money-hungry broadband providers, will be affected in the long run.
The court verdict stated that the Federal Communications Commission did not define Internet Service Providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, as “common carriers” but instead as “information service” therefore these companies are not bound by the net neutrality principle (Verizon). David Progue writes that the“FCC lost that one on a technicality” (36). The solution to this dilemma is in the verdict itself. The Commission should redefine Internet Service Providers as “common carriers” like phone companies or public transportation companies (Rutkin 24). These carriers are governed by strict regulations that ensure that all customers are treated equally. If the Federal Communications Commission will be able to re-define Internet Service Providers as “common carriers”, net neutrality will be re-established.
The deal between Comcast and Netflix is just the beginning of what is to come. Internet Service Provider sharks will continue to target smaller fish and in the end, the most vulnerable preys will be the individual users who are at the bottom of the internet food chain. The Federal Communications Commission needs to take action against the broadband providers who are destroying the internet’s openness. Net Neutrality should be re-established to protect each user’s right to equality, the right to speech and to leisure and so that small businesses will continue to flourish. The internet is a powerful influence on the world today and it needs to be protected, in return, users will continue to enjoy its vast services.
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