My friend and colleague Tom Howarth published an article titled Net Neutrality Threatened as FCC Plans Internet Fast Lanes. In his article, Tom did a very good job articulating the pro–net neutrality arguments. I thought this would be a good opportunity to present the other side of the net neutrality argument, but in the midst of my research I found that my positions and views on this matter are moving in a different direction.
First, let’s start with what net neutrality is all about. In Tom’s article, he spelled out that “the basic concept of net neutrality is that all lawful content is the same, whether a Netflix stream or this site; regardless of the ability to pay, no traffic is pushed through the pipes quicker. Why is it important? Consider what ISPs can do already with the current rules in place.” Using that statement as the starting point, I would like you to focus in on a specific keyword from that statement, and that is ISPs, or Internet service providers.
The debate about net neutrality focuses in part on making sure ISPs do not limit freedom of expression by blocking access to the content of a competitor or something else an ISP would not like you to see. Net neutrality is supposed to promote innovation and competition by ensuring that large companies do not have an advantage over tiny startups. The idea is that this creates a level playing field on the Internet. These rules are supposed to guarantee unfettered access to all companies by treating all data the same, and this should prevent Internet fast lanes where ISPs can charge content creators by the amount of bandwidth needed to deliver the content properly.
My personal view on this is that not all data is the same, and amount of bandwidth should be a consideration. I have a different option available from my ISP for Internet connectivity, and the options are tiered based on the speed or bandwidth. I have “chosen” to spend more to get the faster speeds or greater bandwidth for all devices I have connected. Take Netflix, for example: Netflix streams video as its core business, and this type of service is one of the areas that use the most bandwidth. If Netflix is utilizing more of the overall bandwidth, it should bear more of the costs associated with that. Otherwise, network innovation and/or service enhancements will suffer because the ISPs will have less capital available for upgrading the network.
Did you know that Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter are a view of the companies that are leading the change and the lobbing to keep the net neutrality rules in place? These companies are making the argument to “preserve the open Internet.” If we want an open Internet where there is freedom of expression, as the supporters of net neutrality like to proclaim, then I believe that net neutrality should also apply to the big tech firms. The power these big tech companies have is scary, to say the least. These big tech companies helped played a part in crafting the net neutrality rules and regulations. During the creation process, these big tech companies have conveniently made sure that any rules do not apply to them; as such, the big tech companies are left in a position to have the power to pick and choose which content reaches consumers and which doesn’t. That does not sound like an open Internet with freedom of expression for all to me.
In my opinion, these big tech companies are the greatest threat to the freedom of information, and unless some changes and controls are put into place, they will lead us into a world where the only content we will be “allowed” to see is exactly the narrative and messaging that these tech companies deem worthy, while at the same time they squash any content that does not match the official narrative. In some cases, the dissenting views are now commonly referred to as some kind of hate speech. I believe that we are heading right into a world where the Internet will be a virtual world of total control, and that seems to go against the philosophy of what net neutrality is supposed to be all about, and with that you have another side of the net neutrality debate.