By Naman Misraraj | Staff Writer
To understand network neutrality is to understand the very core of any business: profit.
Net neutrality keeps networks neutral, but what does that really mean? The core idea of network neutrality is data flow and data speed. For example, let’s use Netflix as our hypothetical scenario. Netflix is a company that streams massive amounts of data to its customers in the form of high-definition video. What if they could pay your internet service provider (like Comcast or Time Warner) to have all of Netflix’s data in a “internet fast lane” of sorts, where all your video streaming data would run faster than your internet speed for other sites? That sounds like a great idea! Having old episodes of “30 Rock” streamed to my laptop faster sounds like a dream come true. But behind this dream is an ugly truth that cannot become reality.
These internet “fast lanes” would prioritize data over other sites, meaning any site not directly paying your internet service provider for access to the prioritized data lane would be slowed down to make up for the used bandwidth from the faster sites. Not all of the websites we visit on a day-to-day basis are run by large companies with access to incredible amounts of money with the funds to pay for prioritized data access.
Net neutrality revolves around the idea that this cannot happen; that networks and internet service providers should be neutral and send all the data that you access online (regardless of the source) without bias. Net neutrality should be the only way for data to move through the internet, because without it, we risk creating an internet monopoly.
Oddly enough, net neutrality is a fairly new idea. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hadn’t considered the internet as a public utility until February of last year, after ISPs were lobbying congress to allow fast and slow broadband lanes. The FCC then (after much deliberation and pressure from companies like Google and Apple) reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service, therefore ensuring that all internet traffic needed to remain the same.
While you’d think that having access to a free and open internet that doesn’t prioritize data would be great, quite a few of the presidential hopefuls are against the ruling of the FCC (namely, the Republican Party). Generally, the argument of conservatives runs alongside the party’s key philosophy: small government. They don’t want the government to impose laws regulating the internet.
These regulations, however, are meant to keep competition and an open internet alive. Say a multinational clothing company pays to have their data prioritized over an entrepreneur that sells custom knit scarves from their own website who doesn’t have the kind of money to pay AT&T or Verizon for a fast lane. How is he supposed to compete with a multinational corporation when potential customers will have easier access to their website than his? It’s like having a rival restaurant put barbed wire around your restaurant’s door, and claiming the market is still free and fair. It makes no sense.
The entire point of a business is to make a profit, and just because a large company has more money than you doesn’t mean that you should be at more of a disadvantage than you already are. Yes, net neutrality is a regulation on the internet by the government. But that regulation is what is keeping the spirit of economic competition alive! Without it, businesses wouldn’t be able to compete in the global market against multinational corporations, and we’d end up with companies that have huge monopolies and the ability to obtain undue control over their industries.
While some companies such as Google are in favor of an open internet, there are also companies like Facebook who do not. Over the past few years, Facebook tried to launch an initiative called ‘Internet.org’, a project to help 1 billion people on Earth in impoverished areas get access to the internet and the wealth of knowledge and utility it provides for free.
Internet for free? Sounds like just the thing for people to get out of poverty! But alas, we remember that all things that sound too good to be true often are. Facebook would only allow access to certain sites for free, “certain” being the key word. This is the nightmare of Net Neutrality, because while this project seems great, and might potentially help millions of people get online, are they really using the internet if they can only access a limited number of sites?
‘Internet.org’ faced lots of backlash because of this, and Facebook had to change the name of the service to ‘Free Basics’ because people realized that it wasn’t really a nonprofit organization: companies would pay Facebook to give people free access to their site, where all the new users would inevitably see ads or purchase goods. ‘Free Basics’ isn’t much better however; in fact, their questionable stance with Net Neutrality only becomes clearer: what constitutes a ‘basic service’? What makes Facebook more of a basic service over something like YouTube? Giving people access to a limited internet isn’t about getting them online to help them, it’s about making a profit.
Thankfully, the ridiculousness of Free Basics is being noticed, as India ruled that it would ban the proposed plan due to its lack of compliance with Net Neutrality. And let me tell you, I’ve never been happier to be an Indian. Seeing the government of a country with a population of over 1 billion, with hundreds of millions of people living in poverty say no to a regulation that had the potential (with the giant money-making scheme it was) to bring even a fraction of those people into the modern era makes me incredibly happy. Smaller countries will hopefully follow India’s lead in banning Free Basics. And while it pains me to see the people of my country being denied limited access to a resource that would inarguably change their lives, I know that doing something halfheartedly and with the intention to make money off of them isn’t the way to do it.
The internet is about sharing knowledge and understanding to better the experiences of ourselves and of those around the world. Putting people at an inherent disadvantage due to their economic status is unfair. If you’re going to give people the internet, give them the open internet, the one that is created by the people, for the people.