This Thursday, December 14th, at 10:30 EST the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is scheduled to finalize its vote on net neutrality. Newly appointed FCC commissioner Ajit Pai has already proposed to reclassify internet service providers from utilities to information companies.
If the vote goes along party lines as expected, the rules enacted in 2015 involving net neutrality will be repealed and internet providers will be able to legally control the speed of content running through their networks.
For many reasons the vote to end net neutrality is a controversial one and depending on whom you listen to, the repeal of net neutrality will either be the end of the internet as we know it, or it will be no big deal at all.
Just like much of everything else in society, the outcomes on either end of the spectrum are more sensationalized-extremes than reality. However, the real overarching issue that the net neutrality debate has highlighted is a far more significant concern. A concern that indeed, will need to be addressed sooner or later, and therefore it is best to consider solutions now.
So what exactly is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.
In 2015, the FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service and thus applying Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act of 1934 as well as section 706 of the Telecommunications act of 1996 to Internet service providers.
Ok, so why is Net Neutrality Coming back up in 2017?
In 2017, President Trump’s newly appointed FCC commissioner Ajit Varadaraj Pai objected to the 2015 Open Internet Order, and stated that he planned to "modernize" FCC policies to "match the reality of the modern marketplace." Pai has said he wants to end the "utility-style regulatory approach" to the Internet and reestablish the power of market forces in regulating the Internet. Details of his proposal include the reclassification of broadband access as an information service and a decrease in legal regulations on Internet service providers.
One of the least discussed, yet most concerning aspects of Commissioner Pai’s proposal involves redirecting authority from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to oversee privacy practices.
The reality is that the FTC lacks any real rulemaking or the legal authority to oversee any unfair and deceptive ISP practices, including privacy as a part of the Federal Trade Commission Act known as the “common carrier exemption.”
What does all of this really mean?
One significant benefit of net neutrality is that it equals the playing field on the internet. With the exception of the controls in place to prohibit illegal activity, ISP’s such as Comcast or AT&T currently cannot change how a customer’s data is delivered to them. Without net neutrality protections, in theory, an internet service provider can alter the flow, change services, or block entire access to content any content an internet service provider decides they don’t like.
Additionally, under net neutrality regulations, internet service providers are treated as utility providers or under the same precedent as utilities such as electricity and water, in which all people are afforded access to the services without discrimination. Dissolving net neutrality could end up creating systems in which certain portions of the internet was restricted to individuals based on socio-economic status.
The two sides of the net neutrality argument can be summed up to two differences of opinion when it comes to freedom and maintaining a capitalistic economy.
One side says that the government enforces as few as possible controls over businesses and industry and that free-market enterprise will regulate the availability to consumers. The other side of the debate expresses they have very little faith in unrestricted big business to not create a system of “Haves and Have Not’s” when financial gain is involved.
Ultimately, what the topic of net neutrality actually represents is an underlying issue that is far greater than most people have considered. It is an issue that eventually we will need to deal with one way or another.
There are no mistakes about it; societies today are technologically driven structures in which the very fabric of society has become reliant on technological interconnectivity. For better or worse, we all now live in the digital age and there is no going back now.
At its heart, the debate over net neutrality represents a larger issue in regards to the very governance of the average modern American. In fact, the net neutrality debate should serve as a clarion call for lawmakers that, now is the time to stop bickering about trivial matters and in-fighting over archaic solutions to modern problems.
When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he couldn’t have possibly conceived what would be known today as the World Wide Web. However, the internet ultimately represents the epitome of that free marketplace of ideas that were the foundation for why the Founding Fathers considered it so important that Americans have the freedom of speech they literally stated it in Rule #1. The internet is a virtual world constructed on nothing but the freedom of information, ideas, innovation, and speech.
The internet is at its core an extension of the American mind, de facto the human mind, and ultimately represents the collective consciousness of humanity.
The current debate over net neutrality needs to serve as a wake-up call to the American people to demand that our lawmakers do their jobs and enact legislative safeguards to protect the intellectual freedoms that the internet provides and prevent monopolistic abuses by financial industries. Equally, legislation must be done so as not to smother the Internet in needless government bureaucracy.
We should not sit back and wait for bad things to happen and warning labels to be produced. Instead, we need to consider the valued importance that the internet brings to society and most importantly begin to recognize it as not just another potential money maker. Thanks to the internet, currently billions of people across this world have freedom of speech.
For good or bad, these freedoms for information and ideas represent something far greater than another dollar to be made. Instead, the internet represents a technological world inside the real world in which people now can gather and gain a collective sense of unity. This is something that has truly never been possible in all of human history.
Some see the interconnectivity of people through the internet through green tinted glasses shaped like dollar signs. Others see it as a method for people to be free to confirm the right to be as wicked as they would like to be. However, I see it is the greatest cultural leap in history, a leap that can help provide people with the ability to gain a depth of appreciation for life’s diversity in a way that is truly unprecedented.
At the end of the day, only when we begin to see each other as human beings, can we ever truly believe that we can foster an image of humanity that no longer needs to fight and hate each other. What the internet does is give people a connection. Across mountains, oceans, deserts, and plains; unrestricted by barriers of language and culture, there has never been a medium more capable of connecting people than the internet.
Ultimately, to ensure that the internet actually has a fighting chance to that medium that can help bring about a change in the world for the better, we must start to consider the World Wide Web to be a facet of modern life that is inalienable and free from the corruption of governments or businesses.
No, the internet will not collapse if net neutrality is eroded by the FCC. However, if we do not wake up and see the internet’s powerful potential, we may all lose out on one of the greatest potentials for positive change the world has ever known.
If we let the spiders spin the web, we may suddenly find out the webs they spin are meant to trap us and not let us be free.