Photo of computer in CHS. (Michael Melinger)
Photo of computer in CHS.

Michael Melinger

Pro / Con: Net Neutrality

February 5, 2018

Pro: Net Neutrality Repeal

In early 2001, in the middle of an age of rapid technological innovation, the Microsoft Corporation was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of becoming a monopoly and engaging in anti-competitive processes. The central issue was whether Microsoft was allowed to bundle its flagship browser, Internet Explorer, with its Windows operating system.

It was believed that this bundling was responsible for Microsoft’s victory in the “browser wars”, since every Windows user now had a copy of Internet Explorer. It was alleged that this action restricted the market for competing web browsers, for at this time web browsers were not freeware, but payware. However, technology has left the browser wars in the dust. Nowadays, broadband has made it irrelevant whether computers come pre-installed with browsers, instead, anyone can download competing browsers — Chrome, Firefox, Safari — in less than a minute, and for free.

Today, a new technological issue has ensued, that of net neutrality, which is all about giving the government the right to control and regulate the internet. Ultimately, it is designed to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content, websites, or applications that they are not in partnership with. Although this is an idealistic concept that promotes fairness over the web, the problem is that net neutrality as a practice is hard to implement.

The net neutrality debate stems from a general lack of understanding of the way the internet works. Most people think of internet as a massive public network that everyone connects to in the same way. Data is thought to travel from web companies such as Google and Yahoo into a massive “internet backbone” of cables and data centers, before it moves into a myriad of various ISPs that transfer that data to us. This would be a “neutral web”, but it is not our internet because too much traffic comes from just a handful of companies. Essentially, companies have already found ways to technologically bypass the political law of net neutrality.

How is this possible? The core issues net neutrality aims to solve is allowing government regulation of ISPs, in order to prevent ISPs from allowing some companies to have internet “fast lanes” while others toil at slower speeds. Essentially, this is a fear of ISPs speeding up, slowing down, or blocking certain sites. Although this is a well warranted fear, it doesn’t make much sense because privileged companies such as Google, Facebook, and Netflix already benefit from what are essentially internet fast lanes.

As Craig Labovitz, CEO of DeepField Networks (which tracks how companies build internet infrastructure), said, “The fast lane is how the internet is built today.” Major companies have direct connections to big ISPs and run dedicated computer servers deep inside the ISPs, also known as “peering connections” and “content delivery servers” (CDN), vital parts of internet. In other words, these major companies have basically created their own personal “fast lanes”.

For example, when I watch a movie on Netflix, the video stream doesn’t have to travel from California through an array of different autonomous networks (internet backbone) and into my living room in St. Louis. Instead, the video stream only needs to travel a few miles from a nearby Netflix server, thus giving Netflix a clear advantage, or a “fast lane”, over other streaming services like HBO, which can’t afford to pay for the CDNs built into the local ISP servers. Thus, both the ISP and Netflix benefit from this arrangement, but I do too. I get faster and cheaper internet speed. This arrangement is a violation of net neutrality itself, and only shows how useless net neutrality is.

Today, the internet is so influential that governments feel a need to get in on the action, that is, to regulate the Internet. The government is trying to solve a lack of competition in the internet industry with law to regulate how a for-profit corporation can operate, which is not right. Especially in the area of technology, government regulation has very little place. Essentially, governments cannot move fast enough to effectively regulate technology companies. By the time governments have settled on a solution, technology has changed and the debate is irrelevant, just like the Microsoft issue. Thus, the US government is not capable of providing appropriate fairness to the internet, and should instead leave the internet in a free market state.

In fact, data from USTelecom, a non-profit organization, showed that because of government regulations, the investment for internet infrastructures decreased over time. ISPs within US invested 78.4 billion dollars in US in the year of 2014, before the Open Internet Act of 2015. After FCC passed Net Neutrality in 2015, the investments started a downwards trend to $77.9 billion in 2015 and $76 billion in 2016.

This decrease in investment means that the ISPs are less interested in maintaining and improving the broadband internet, like creating new servers or “fast lanes” for slower and less covered regions. And that was mainly due to the passage of net neutrality. This means that if net neutrality stays in place, then 10 years from now there may be new low-earth orbit satellites that emerge and allow us to all have wireless connections from space. With the rise of 5G and wireless broadband, new and old companies may jump into the new wireless network industry, increasing the competition and breaking the cable monopoly, making us forget that we ever worried about net neutrality.

Con: Net Neutrality Repeal

Entering the twenty-first century, as technology advances, the concept of a free and open internet has shifted from being viewed as a luxury to being seen as both a necessity and a given. Culture, communications, and business flourish on a free internet, as do education and the job market. An open internet expands the realm of opportunity to otherwise unreachable people and places.

The Federal Communications Committee (FCC), a five-member organization, wants to take these benefits away from everyone.

Last month, the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai, voted to repeal net neutrality. Net neutrality is a broad term for the free and unrestricted internet, as well as the laws which ensure this, and it benefits every user of the internet. The convention of net neutrality helps small businesses and startups access possible customers more easily, as well as allowing people to take college courses online, apply for jobs with ease, and communicate with friends and family across the world. It also prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from manipulating what their customers access online, as well as charging additional fees for improved service.

One would question why the FCC would vote to remove such a beneficial convention. The answer? Profit for big businesses.

Though Pai claimed that his goal was to actually benefit internet users, saying in a PBS interview, “Well, I favor a free and open Internet, as I think most consumers do,” it is clear that motives for repealing net neutrality benefit only those who profit from the use of the internet, the major ISPs. Pai dismissed the concerns of internet users, saying that “Well, there are isolated cases,” of ISPs blocking certain services (such as Skype, FaceTime and Google Wallet), “But if you look at the FCC’s own records, there are only scattered anecdotes to support this.”

The fact that this is a possibility at all is concerning, especially considering that the FCC has made it clear that they will no longer be overseeing the activities of telecom giants such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast. These “scattered anecdotes” could become the norm of ISP behavior with net neutrality revoked.

Without Obama-era protections of net neutrality, American internet users – nearly all Americans – will be subjected to mistreatment by corrupt ISPs, because without net neutrality, potential for ISPs to profit increases enormously.

ISPs will be able to charge extra money for certain content or better-quality service, as well as prioritize or block data from their users’ access. Essentially, if an ISP favors one business, they will be able to slow down or even prevent access to sites of competing businesses. The same applies to ideologies; if an ISP disagrees with a political standpoint, or even just an opinion which reflects badly upon the company, they could make it more difficult or expensive for their customers to reach sites pertaining to said ideologies.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fears that net neutrality will impact freedom of speech online as well. If telecom giants take offense to protests by citizens, whether they be against the removal of net neutrality or another cause entirely, protesters can be silenced from speaking out online. Challenging what the ACLU views as an attack on freedom of speech, Ron Newman of the ACLU said, “In a world without net neutrality, activists may lose an essential platform to organize and fight for change. . . Congress must stop Chairman Pai’s plan in its tracks and ensure that net neutrality remains the law of the land.” The potential censorship which could occur without net neutrality belongs more in a dystopian work of fiction than in the legal workings of America.

The injustice of removing the uncensored and unrestricted can not be ignored by the American people or leaders. Senior policy analyst of the ACLU Jay Stanley said, “Internet rights are civil rights.” In the fight to preserve net neutrality, it is the job of the American government to preserve these rights.

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Michael Melinger, Chief Multimedia Editor

Michael Melinger is a Senior at Clayton High School.  This is his fourth year on the Globe.  He currently serves as the Chief Multimedia Editor for the Globe.  This is his third...

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Hongkai Jiang, Review Section Editor

Hongkai Jiang is a senior at Clayton High school. He joined Globe sophomore year. He is the review section editor for Globe. The reason he joined Globe is because most of his friends...

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