It would probably be very rare in today’s society for anyone to not know what the internet is or never having actually used it. However, not everyone may know what is net neutrality and what are the pros and cons of net neutrality?
There are obviously numerous arguments on both sides of this question, but the primary pros and cons are preservation of free speech, consumer protection and promotes competition, whereas it can be argued whether it is needed at all, creates burdensome regulations and the reduction of investments.
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the concept that the internet service providers, such as Comcast, AT&T or Verizon should treat all content flowing through their networks equally.
These internet service providers cannot push certain data through fast lanes while blocking or slowing down others, which promotes fair competition. Any website or content that a subscriber requests access to should be provided, as long as it is legal.
Throttling would not be allowed, which is a way of intentionally slowing down the internet service, either because of the internet service provider’s preferences or the type of service.
Increased transparency throughout the entire network of an internet service provider, as the connection between the consumer and the ISP is not the only place where some sites may receive special treatment.
Any prioritization due to additional or higher fees would be prohibited. This type of paid prioritization would create a multi-tier system in which those not willing or unable to pay this fee would be stuck in a slow lane.
Who Regulates the Internet
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all internet service providers (ISPs) at a federal level. An internet service provider is deemed as the company that provides broadband services to subscribers.
However, in its early days, subscribers accessed their internet service via a dial-up through their local telephone lines (remember AOL?).
Some of the largest and more well known internet service providers in the United States are AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, and Frontier Communications.
Let’s Dive Deeper into the Pros and Cons
Preservation of Free Speech
In the United States, free speech is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, amongst several other freedoms. It is within this free speech doctrine that net neutrality has been deemed as necessary to ensure that the internet service providers do not interfere with or prohibit anyone from exercising this right, by either slowing or prohibiting a particular website’s content.
Imagine if your website’s content was slowed down or blocked simply because your internet service provider does not agree with your particular viewpoints. That would be unfair to say the least, but also illegal within the framework of the First Amendment, but without the net neutrality rules, it would be difficult to ensure this right is not violated.
If internet service providers can slow down content and charge higher fees for a “fast lane”, this would inevitably be pushed down to the average consumer as an additional cost. One good example is having access to a certain streaming service.
A consumer could potentially be charged additional fees to have access to Netflix or Amazon by their internet service provider, Comcast in this example. This is because Comcast has no monetary interest with these two streaming services but have a partial ownership interest in NBC and Hulu, and because of that allows free or lower cost to access the latter streaming services. This would also create unfair competition.
Another element of net neutrality rules was to ensure fair competition. If an internet service provider was allowed to charge all companies fees in order to reach their subscribers, this would be unfair as it would increase the costs for a new startup, as typically a startup has limited funds. This also allows the internet service providers to favor those companies they have a vested interest in, which is form of discrimination.
One strong argument against net neutrality rules is that the internet prospered and developed extremely well in the absence of such rules. There were numerous large internet companies such as Google, Facebook and YouTube which all were started and became incredibly successful without any net neutrality rules.
Lastly, critics argued that net neutrality inherently decreases any potential investment by the internet service providers. During the debate of implementing net neutrality between 2011 to 2015, there was a decrease of investment by the internet service providers into their networks.
Some even argued, that on the contrary, net neutrality prevents internet service providers from charging premium fees to those companies that use a greater amount of bandwidth, such as streaming services. Therefore, any investment to improve the network would have to be felt by all consumers, regardless they subscribe to a particular streaming service or not.
Burdensome and Overreaching Regulations
Critics often argue that net neutrality creates unnecessary regulations since the lack of such rules for decades allowed many companies to grow and flourish is sufficient proof that any new regulations would be burdensome and unnecessary.
These critics also argue that net neutrality created additional and unnecessary costs for internet service providers in order to be compliant with such regulations.
Net Neutrality Rules Enacted and Then Repealed
The Open Internet Order of 2015, under the Obama administration, implemented the new net neutrality rules for the United States, after four years of debate.
In 2017, this was repealed by the Trump administration.
This Is Why We Need Net Neutrality
- Cox Communications “fast lane” service to gamers for an additional $15/month
- Frontier Communications charges a $10 monthly modem rental fee, regardless even if the customer has their own modem
- Verizon throttled services that affected the Santa Clara Fire Department’s ability to provide emergency services
- Researchers from Northeastern University and University of Massachusetts Amherst found that nearly all wireless carriers regularly throttled the internet speed for some video streaming services
In 2017, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the net neutrality rules implemented under the Obama administration, it argued that transparency would be better served by refining the transparency rule and combined with existing consumer protection and antitrust laws would be sufficient to ensure that internet service providers would be unlikely to take any action that would harm consumers or competition.
However, in 2019 CenturyLink was issued a $6.1 million penalty after the Washington state regulators found that it consistently failed to disclose fees that had increased the actual prices paid by consumers compared to the advertised rates.
Additional Proof That Net Neutrality Is Not Necessary
In 2017, when the net neutrality rules were repealed, numerous proponents claimed this would both slow down the internet speeds across the board, as well as creating a two-tier internet, as the internet service providers would be charging higher premiums for a better service.
By the end of 2019, a review of internet services in the country did not support any of these claims. The internet speeds had improved for most parts of the country, and there was no evidence of a two-tier system for consumers.
What Is the Status of Net Neutrality Today?
Currently, there are no net neutrality rules in place since they were repealed by the Trump administration back in 2017.
However, with the recent nominations to lead the FCC by President Biden would likely bring the net neutrality conversation back to the top of the to do list in 2022. The two nominees, Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn, are both strong advocates of net neutrality, and would also provide the democrats a 3-2 vote advantage amongst its commissioners.
During the past two years in which the entire country had to deal with the global COVID 19 pandemic, it was further demonstrated more than ever how essential it was to ensure internet access was available to everyone fairly. This was highlighted by the increased usage due to people working from home, and school children having to attend classes remotely via the internet.
To date there are seven states that have adopted net neutrality laws of their own, California, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Several other states have introduced some form of net neutrality legislation in their 2021 legislative session, Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, and South Carolina.
California probably has the most comprehensive net neutrality laws in effect in the country. Its laws go beyond the Open Internet Order adopted by the Federal Communications Commission back in 2015.
Fastest Internet Services in the World
The below chart shows the 20 fastest average fixed broadband internet speeds from around the world.