On December 14th, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is set to vote on whether or not to dismantle the regulations put in place in February 2015 by the Obama administration. This dismantling of neutrality regulations has sparked a broad debate about net neutrality. A quick Google search will find that most writers and journalists are proclaiming this move by the FCC as disastrous for small companies, individuals, and free speech (one headline bemoaned, “Net neutrality is dead. Bow to Comcast and Verizon, your overlords”). But is this true?
Simply defined, Net Neutrality is ensuring that Internet Service Providers treat all data that is delivered to customers equally. In other words, consumers must have equal access to all data without being slowed down, blocked, or sped up. The 2015 Obama administration regulations look to Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 for support.
The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is hoping to dismantle the regulations from the Obama Administration. Opponents charge that Pai’s plan would end net neutrality and unfairly favour large companies (hence the bowing as mentioned above to Comcast and Verizon article) and would eliminate a level playing field in which innovation can occur. Proponents of Pai’s plan would argue this is not the objective of Pai’s plan, and that it eliminates overbearing government regulation and gives consumers more choices.
Opponents say that Pai’s planned dismantling of neutrality regulations would open the gate for ISPs to force companies to pay for faster Internet service, essentially creating a fast lane and a slow lane for companies to get on. Naturally, only the largest companies could afford to get in the fast lane. Another concern is that with these regulations dismantled, it could allow ISPs to block or slow down user access to websites.
Opponents also claim dismantling of neutrality regulations will eliminate the level playing field that allows start-up companies to exist. Start-up companies do not have the revenue or publicity to pay these feared controls by ISPs. Since these companies rely on an open Internet to garner attention, opponents argue this eliminates competition.
However, some proponents think Pai’s planned dismantling of neutrality regulations is a great move. One of the arguments in favour is that it would curtail the current level of government regulation on the Internet. Proponents make the case that agencies regulated by the government are not as efficient and cost massive amounts of money. In contrast, private industries tend to be far more productive. Also, since the exposure in 2013 of the government spying on its people – it is questionable if the government indeed has the best interests of the American consumer in mind. Therefore, proponents would ask, should the government control and monitor the Internet activity of its citizens, knowing that it likely is being used for surveillance?
Lastly, proponents would argue that the dismantling of regulations will give consumers more choice. In the statement released from the FCC, Pai stated he planned to, “require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
Pai’s planned dismantling of regulations will either spell the end to net neutrality according to opponents or bring about a more free market with more rights to consumers according to proponents. This issue has become strongly divisive, and it waits to be seen what the actual effects would be. Regardless, December 14th, 2017 will be a noteworthy day in the history of the Internet.