10 Net Neutrality Pros & Cons, Because The Debate Is More Complicated Than You Might Realize
On the morning of Dec. 14 at 10:30 a.m. ET the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on net neutrality. The outcome of this vote could drastically change the way you use the internet and how companies profit from your internet usage. You may have seen rallying calls from supporters or critics in your social media feeds, leaving you wondering what the pros and cons are to net neutrality.
Under current regulations set in 2015 during the Obama era, broadband providers like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner were classified as Title II "common carriers." This means your internet service provider sets up the infrastructure, but has to treat all internet content and data equally. Internet providers are not allowed to block websites they don't like nor, for example, charge you for using YouTube more than for using Twitter (video streaming uses more data than tweeting). Internet providers also cannot give preferential treatment — like faster speed — to one website over another. In 2014 the White House sent out a public video message from then President Obama urging the FCC to protect net neutrality. "There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access," Obama said in the video. "There are no toll roads on the information superhighway."
But the commissioner of the FCC, Trump-appointee Ajit Pai, wants to reclassify broadband providers as Title I "information services carriers." Pai argues that the distribution of data is uneven, so low-data websites and apps are unfairly treated the same as bandwidth hogs. Pai thinks that deregulating the network would allow one, more free market competition to encourage innovation, and two, internet companies to charge higher fees to the high-data websites they service. Conservative site The Daily Caller posted a video of Pai showing net neutrality protesters all the things they can still do after net neutrality is dismantled.
If you want to make your own informed decision, here are some pros and cons to net neutrality.
Pro: Net Neutrality Encourages Innovation
Supporters of net neutrality argue that big companies like Netflix could pay internet companies for special advantages, such as faster speeds and more bandwidth. If a new video streaming start-up wanted to enter the market, for instance, they would have no chance to compete.
Con: Net Neutrality Supposedly Stifles Innovation
Gone are the days of waiting 10 minutes on your dial-up for a GeoCities page to load, but Pai argues that strict regulations maintain the status quo and stifle competition among websites. Rolling back net neutrality regulations could give companies the flexibility to experiment with new business models that weren't allowed in the past. On top of that, internet providers could still help out online startup companies by exempting them from data caps, for example.
Pro: "All Internet Data Should Be Equal" Rule Limits The Power Of Corporate Greed
Equal and free access to information is seen as a pillar of democracy. Deregulating the internet gives power to internet providers who could then have a free-for-all in controlling how you use the internet, what tech companies pay, and what consumers pay. The profit priority will influence what content and services are most readily available.
Con: But In Reality, All Internet Data Isn't Equal
But consider that services like BitTorrent allow users to download exabytes of software, movies, and music illegally while straining the network built and maintained by telecommunications service providers. Tech companies have created services that let people make calls and send gifs for free, so why shouldn't internet providers be compensated?
Pro: Net Neutrality Prohibits Internet Providers From Censoring Content
Net neutrality guarantees, to a certain extent, freedom of expression and choice in what content we consume. Under current regulations, internet providers cannot censor content or use their network to promote one website over another. In other words, Time Warner, for example, can't give more bandwidth to news sites that support their corporate interests while limiting the bandwidth for others.
Con: Tech Companies Already Choose What We Can And Can't See
Some might point out that while internet providers don't choose our content for us, social media websites do it already through "platform partisanship." Critics have accused Facebook of political censorship and Twitter of not enforcing its rules evenly (see routine Twitter rule violator: Donald Trump).
Pro: A Level Playing Field Keeps Prices Down For Consumers
Tim Berners-Lee, one of the founding members of the internet, stated the internet was created with the intention that it remain neutral and non-discriminatory. Putting regulations in the hand of network providers could allow them to create a tiered internet system. For example, if a music-streaming site wanted to be in the top tier, the fast lane, it would would have to pay for it unless it wanted its users to suffer from buffering streams. To remain profitable, that company might increase its premium subscription rate or make its free service no longer free. Only people who can afford the price hike can listen to music through that site.
Con: Low-Data Consumers Have To Pay As Much As High-Data Consumers
But critics of net neutrality point out that consumers burn through data in different ways, which means heavy-data users pay proportionately less than low-data users. It's then a matter of perspective: Should someone who only uses the internet to check their email pay Comcast the same home internet bill as the person who plays games on Xbox Live?
Pro: The Television Industry Is Going Through A Golden Age
There's no doubt that streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have changed the way we watch TV shows and kickstarted a creative renaissance in television arts. Trickling in with the golden age of television, streaming sites are also investing in original movies now, like the Netflix-produced Okja.
Con: Streaming Companies Take Advantage Of The Infrastructure
Internet service providers are in charge of maintaining and developing broadband infrastructure. Like a highway, more users and heavier usage require more money and energy to upkeep this infrastructure. But improvements cost money and videos, which makes up 70 percent of internet traffic, are sprawling. Tech giants like Facebook that provide real-time video calls and Amazon, which provides legal streaming, use the existing infrastructure for free. The end of net neutrality could force these companies to pay up.
Should Pai win the vote for overturning net neutrality, the deregulation won't immediately go into effect. Democrats have vowed to overturn the proposal and states could still legislate on the matter at a local level. Expect lawsuits from net neutrality supporters as well.