Over the past few years one of the hottest issues in the tech world has been something called net neutrality. It’s a terribly nonspecific term for an issue that is crucial to the Internet as we know it: ensuring access to sites, apps, and services isn’t degraded or eliminated based on your service provider or plan.
(I want to make it clear up front that I don’t really want Bits to enter the arena of politics too often. But there’s a lot of confusion about what net neutrality is, and it hits pretty close to what One Ten provides as services for businesses.)
With that, let’s get into it.
Ensuring a free and open Internet
Whenever you read something from a supporter of net neutrality, you’ll probably see one phrase repeated a lot: “free and open Internet”. It’s not a bad way to describe what the goal of net neutrality is.
Net neutrality is easiest to explain by example. Imagine a popular site for watching videos online called Examplecom. Examplecom makes a deal with the largest mobile carrier to say that it should load faster than any other video hosting site.
A couple of months later, a new video startup called Newbi launches with a better design and more features than Examplecom. But when anyone on the largest mobile carrier tries to visit on Newbi, all videos take 10 seconds to load thanks to the deal made with Examplecom.
Or to take it a step further, imagine if customers of that largest mobile carrier needed to pay an extra $10/month to visit sites like Newbi. Or imagine if they were blocked from visiting them at all. Or what if Examplecom and Newbi were news sites with vastly different perspectives on issues?
We’re fortunate to have an Internet where all sites are treated equally and there’s no preferential treatment for particular sites. The goal of net neutrality is to ensure that no matter how you access the Internet, you’ll be able to see all sites and that they’re all on a level playing field.
Many tech companies agree that net neutrality is essential in order to preserve some of the most fundamental concepts of the web: freedom of access to information; the ability of new ideas, sites, and apps to form and innovate without being pushed out of the market; and fair treatment of all people who access the web.
Criticisms of net neutrality
Support for net neutrality isn’t unanimous, and criticism often falls in line with other regulatory issues. Net neutrality requires some level of government oversight and control; at the minimum this opens up companies to increased scrutiny, and at its most extreme it could require the government to monitor Internet traffic to ensure fairness. Since many advocates of net neutrality also don’t favor government monitoring of Internet use, many proponents support a lighter touch for regulation.
Net neutrality and Title II
A lot of the criticism in the net neutrality debate has actually been around a related decision, not net neutrality itself. In 2015 the FCC classified Internet service providers as common telecommunication carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. That’s a really technical way of saying that Internet providers are now regulated in the same manner as phone companies.
The decision raised concerns among ISPs, which were concerned that the new classification could limit investment in new infrastructure and stifle innovation among providers. (And they were concerned they could lose money.) The FCC used the reclassification as a way to ensure net neutrality without having to pass legislation in Congress, but net neutrality can exist whether ISPs are classified as common carriers or not.
Net neutrality is a complex issue about an essential part of the Internet. For more information, visit the following links:
- Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group in support of net neutrality
- The Internet Association, a group of tech companies in support of net neutrality
- USTelecom, an association of broadband companies opposed to some portions of government regulation