Imagine this. Recently, you came up with a ground breaking product idea and can’t wait to market it to the public. You created a website to sell your product online. However, when others try to purchase from your site, the internet service provider has deliberately slowed yours down in favor of larger companies. This may seem like a nightmare to you, but on December 14th 2017, this became a reality for many American citizens.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
Net Neutrality is the principle that all internet service providers (Bell, Rogers, Telus, etc.) must give users equal access to all legal sites, without blocking or favouring certain ones. Going back to the above example, under the net neutrality law, your website will be just as accessible as let’s say, Amazon’s.
On February 16th 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favor of net neutrality rules proposed by the Obama administration. Prior to this event, there were policies that upheld ethical practices by Internet Service Providers that stemmed from decades of discussion. The decision on June 14th 2016 by the U.S Court of Appeals to fully uphold the FCC’s net neutrality rule, reinforced previous actions. It may seem like December 14th was a sudden decision, but it actually has been occurring since Ajit Pai, the current commissioner was appointed. Throughout 2017, the FCC has been cancelling privacy rules and launching a campaign against net neutrality. This ultimately led to the fateful December 14th decision. See the image below for an extended timeline of net neutrality.
WHO ARE THE WINNERS AND LOSERS?
Like all controversial decisions, different stakeholders will be affected differently. For large internet service providers (ISPS), this is a more lucrative business model. They will be able to block certain content and charge extra to use certain services. The repeal of net neutrality allows the ISPS to charge website owners in order to relay that content to customers, on top charging consumers for access. Furthermore, the slower access to sites may pressure businesses to upgrade to the “fast lane.” Larger online companies like Amazon or eBay will be able to offset this charge, however for start-ups it incurs an additional cost that may not be sustainable for them. Hence, it may prove a hindrance to market entry for start-ups.
As for consumers, effects will also be dependent on internet usage behaviour. In countries without net neutrality—most notably Portugal—the ISPS offer packages that tailor certain preferences. It is likely that American ISPS will adopt this method. For instance, consumers who primarily use Netflix or Youtube, may choose to purchase a package that allows for faster access to the aforementioned sites. While proponents of repealing net neutrality may argue that this a more affordable option to consumers, the reality is that people use a variety of sites. By limiting the choices that consumers can access on the base rate plan, it disproportionately disadvantages lower income groups. The prevalence of internet as a method for networking and communication may inhibit one’s ability to further their career.
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE HOLD?
Being high school and university students, there is no doubt that technology plays an integral part in our daily lives. We are able to communicate with our peers, network with others who share similar passions, create our own digital businesses and even read economic blogs. The constant sharing of ideas and information is what brings us together to find solutions to issues.
As Justine Bateman put it eloquently, "Net Neutrality is what makes the Internet so great - and so vital for innovation and creativity." The lack of net neutrality favours the current stable and profitable businesses, but not the future—the new generation of startups that provide services to better our world.
However, it need not be this way. The FCC passed the bill in 2016 due to millions of citizens raising their concern for the need of net neutrality. We, too, can take action to reverse the repeal. Please visit battleforthenet.com to sign a petition to do so.