The Case Against Net Neutrality
Introduced by law in 2015 under then-President Barack Obama, Net Neutrality is the idea that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) should treat all data equally, and not discriminate or charge more by user, website or other such platforms. In December 2017, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voted to repeal ‘Net Neutrality’ in the USA, incensing Internet users all over the country.
A move to deregulate the ISP industry, the repeal of Net Neutrality laws means that firms like Verizon and Comcast are legally able to slow down connections for certain sites, block apps, or charge companies extra fees for access to broadcasting to consumers. Hence, the argument for Net Neutrality seems clear - why should ISPs be able to block or charge higher fees for viewers to view certain content? Wouldn’t this lead to more censorship and less freedom of speech as media conglomerates are able to control what Internet users see?
The Free Market
Further analysis of the free market principles in the ISP industry shows us that these possible negative effects are highly unlikely. There are thousands of ISPs in the United States, none of them controlled by the government (i.e. they are in the private market). Even after Net Neutrality is repealed, ISPs are unlikely to begin blocking content because of competition. If users begin to notice that they’re unable to access some sites or have to pay higher prices to view certain content, they will simply switch to another ISP that allows them this access. Therefore the ISP that is blocking or charging higher prices for content will lose out on customers to those that do not. Assuming that they’re interested in making profit, ISPs are simply incentivized not to block content in order to maintain profits. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that big firms like Verizon and AT&T, who will undoubtedly have seen the outrage of Internet users over the possible loss of content accessibility, will suddenly decide to do harm to their own customer base and start blocking content access; after all in order to make profits they have to meet the demands of their users.
Repealing Net Neutrality means that ISP services could become more reliable. For example in 2008, T-Mobile services were temporarily shut down because a popular Android IM app refreshed so often that it overloaded the entire T-Mobile network in the area. This is because in 2008, the FCC had taken a Net Neutrality position; hence at the time, T-Mobile was legally obliged to allow this Android IM app the broadband it needed since they had to treat all data equally and could not relegate the app to slower channels. This meant that since the cellular usage of the IM app was so huge, it congested the entire network and shut down cellular usage for everyone on the T-Mobile network in the region.
An easy way to understand this is to think of broadband service like a highway. Under Net Neutrality, there is only one highway. Apps requiring different amounts of broadband are represented by different sizes of vehicles - i.e. an app like Netflix would be a large truck, whereas Candy Crush would perhaps be a car. All of the vehicles are able to use the same highway regardless of size. However if an app requiring huge amounts of broadband comes along, it will cause congestion, and since there’s only one highway, there’s nowhere else for the other apps to go in order to travel faster. This would essentially reduce ‘travel quality’ (i.e. internet quality) for everyone on the highway. However, the repeal of Net Neutrality opens up many more ‘highways’, meaning that there will be less congestion and hence, better service.
This is just one example of how one poorly managed app or website can reduce cellular coverage for huge groups of people. With the repeal of Net Neutrality, ISPs can more easily prioritize app and website broadband usage and hence prevent these types of situations from happening. And, as discussed above, they’re unlikely to abuse the privilege of prioritizing this broadband access since they would lose customers if they did. ISPs are much more likely to use prioritization to provide a more reliable, regular and continuous service for customers.
A More Catered Internet
Furthermore, the repeal of Net Neutrality would increase investment by large firms such as Comcast and Verizon. Net Neutrality is extremely expensive for ISPs, because they have to provide huge amounts of broadband for each and every app or website, as they cannot reprioritize certain apps and sites to have slower broadband (which would be cheaper). This cost is then passed on to consumers. Therefore because of Net Neutrality, consumers actually have to pay more for their Internet. However without Net Neutrality, ISPs can now slow down broadband usage for apps that take up huge amounts of broadband - this reduces costs of production for ISPs, which they can then use to invest back into the industry, fuelling further innovation. With the Internet accounting for an ever-growing amount of job growth (just look at Silicon Valley), this will probably be all the more beneficial to America’s economy.
This also relates to a more customizable Internet coverage. In general, the elderly are much less likely to use high-broadband apps and websites (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Snapchat etc.) compared to young people. They’re more likely to use basic Internet services such as email and Google. However if both the elderly and young people use the same ISP, the elderly, who use much less broadband, may be paying the same amount as young people (or, more likely, their parents). After the repeal of Net Neutrality, ISPs could form more specialized Internet packages where access to basic services such as Google and email are cheaper, whereas further access to higher-broadband apps will be more expensive. This is far more beneficial for the elderly and other such groups.
While the effects of Net Neutrality may not truly be seen until late this year, I suspect that it will be less ‘doomsday’ than people predict. Under the new regulations, any restrictions on freedom of speech online will still be regulated by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). It’s important to remember that just because Net Neutrality has been repealed, this doesn’t mean there will suddenly be an exodus of free Internet in America.
More links explaining the case against Net Neutrality:
The Internet didn't need Net Neutrality in 2015, it doesn't now (Washington Examiner)
Why Trump wants to toss Obama's Net Neutrality Rules: QuickTake (The Washington Post)
The case FOR Net Neutrality:
Effects of the end of Net Neutrality:
What may happen to the Internet in America (The Economist)