Surely, you have heard about net neutrality a lot lately, and you may be wondering why. On November 21st Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that the FCC will vote to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules put in place by the FCC. The roll back of these rules are a win for companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast as it frees them up from regulations that keep them from charging extra for internet “fast lanes” or slowing down the speeds of selected websites.
First off, we will start out with what net neutrality is and is not. Net neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T have to treat all data the same. For example, if net neutrality is in place, Comcast cannot slow down specifically Netflix streaming and boost their own services speed; they must treat that data the same they treat all other data. Many opponents to it act as if the government is becoming ISP which is obviously not true, nor is the government taking over the internet. They are simply ensuring the internet stays free and open.
Many opponents will say there was nothing wrong with the internet before the net neutrality laws went into effect in 2015, but there were problems that may not have been apparent to everybody. For example, Comcast and Verizon throttled Netflix streaming speed and made it much slower until Netflix paid Comcast extra money to keep up the streaming speed. While Netflix did have the money to pay Comcast and Verizon, imagine if they had throttled the speed of a smaller company’s site. If the company did not have the money to pay Comcast, they would have essentially been screwed. Also, Verizon essentially blocked Google Wallet from Verizon customers because Verizon was coming out with their own mobile wallet. These two examples lead me to one of my main points which is that net neutrality in the current environment keeps companies from obstructing the free market and reducing competition.
Without net neutrality, companies could, in theory, shut down competitors by paying the ISP money to slow down other sites that compete with them. Let’s say net neutrality was repealed and Netflix was losing market share to Hulu. Netflix could pay Comcast to slow down Hulu to ensure Hulu can’t compete to Netflix. Net neutrality helps keep the market free and open and competitive which is always better for the consumer.
Without net neutrality, your ISP could stop you from viewing certain content they may not want you to see. Let’s say your ISP is a more liberal company. They could throttle the speed of Fox News, Breitbart, and other right-wing websites to make them unusable in an attempt to control what you see. Or maybe an article came out that was exposing the ISP’s scrupulous practices and they throttled the speed to the site it was on to ensure fewer people viewed it. Net neutrality helps promote free speech to ensure no ISP can control the narrative.
Of course, the obvious response to my argument about ISPs acting in nefarious ways is that, “if you don’t like your ISP, you can go to another one.” While this logic works in most situations, it does not work when referring to ISPs. The reality for a large portion of United States is that they have one, or maybe two, ISPs in their area. For example, where I live in a suburb just outside of Memphis, there are only two options for ISPs and they are CenturyTel and Comcast. CenturyTel’s internet service is about as awful as it gets unless all you use the internet for is to check email, so the only viable option for most people is Comcast. If Comcast decided to throttle the speed of sites I frequent, then I would just be screwed in all honesty. We are lucky in the sense that we have 2 options because many Americans only have one option for an ISP.
Even though it seems hopeless to keep the internet open and free in a free market way, there is an option. The reason the title says, “For Now” is because in the short term it is necessary, but it may not be in the long term.
The reason ISPs have a monopoly/duopoly in many places is because they essentially lobby localities to regulate all others out of the market in that area. What many conservatives think is an appropriate solution (including myself) is to keep net neutrality for now to ensure ISPs stay inline while you begin to dismantle the regulations that give them this monopoly. Once the regulations are rolled back, and the free market is allowed to work as it was intended, more ISPs will move into these areas. Once this happens, you repeal net neutrality because now if somebody is not happy with their ISP, they can switch to another one. That is essence of free market capitalism.