Since its conception, the internet has been a place where people and organizations could communicate, express their views and opinions, and expose one another to different perspectives. When accessing the internet, people can find, view and comment on whatever content they choose. This ability is the basis of net neutrality.
Simply put, net neutrality is the idea that network providers cannot prioritize, censor, or otherwise tamper with any legal content that their customers attempt to access on the internet.
Net neutrality is currently ensured for all by a policy passed in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This policy holds broadband providers under “common carrier” regulations, forbidding them from tampering with what their customers wish to access online and protecting the existence of a free and open internet. Recently, this freedom has come under fire.
The FCC proposed new rules that would “reverse the FCC’s 2015 decision to impose heavy-handed Title II utility-style government regulation on Internet service providers.”
The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, believes that these regulations are hindering competition between internet service providers. According to Pai’s biography on the FCC website, he believes that “consumers benefit most from competition, not preemptive regulation. Free markets have delivered more value to American consumers than highly regulated ones.”
While it is true that a free market usually compels companies to work for the benefit of customers who would otherwise switch brands, a problem arises when these providers are dealing in information. With the current regulations in place, internet users can access content from any source, including the competitors of their current service provider. In a free internet, consumers can compare the quality of service providers with personal reviews and company data. Essentially, net neutrality supports a free market and competition, and without it, internet providers could block access to any information regarding their competitors or anything that portrays them in a negative light.
In addition to this, net neutrality also supports free expression on the internet. Without common carrier restrictions, internet service providers could also block, slow down or otherwise inhibit any content that expresses an opinion that is at odds with the company’s official viewpoints, or that it deems “controversial.”
The potential for providers to block unfavorable content is not just a hypothetical problem. Before the FCC’s regulations in 2015, there were examples of internet providers tampering with their consumers’ ability to access certain types of information. AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Wireless have all attempted to interfere with information at some point or another, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
If the FCC’s current plan to dispose of common carrier regulations manages to succeed, the freedom of expression and information U.S. citizens have come to expect on the internet will be in jeopardy. People need to express their views on the proposal so the FCC knows how the public feels about this issue. Since the time has passed to file FCC complaints, the best course of action is for citizens to contact their senators and representatives. The internet should remain free.