Author: Mark Dowd

You should care about the state of Net Neutrality in the U.S. because if you use the internet at all, it will affect you.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the idea that the web is open to everyone, meaning that internet service providers can’t block content or intentionally slow download times for particular websites. The principle, which was initially approved by the FCC in 2010, states that web access is a human right that should be available for all.

Here’s John Oliver’s comical take on Net Neutrality in the U.S.A.:

What would a world without Net Neutrality look like?

Internet providers are in the business of making money and for years have lobbied against Net Neutrality. Without it they could squeeze websites, charging them for faster or even exclusive service. Websites like Netflix and Amazon could be forced to cut exclusive deals with internet service providers, and charge customers of competing service providers more.

The state of U.S. Net Neutrality:

The Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to pull the plug on the open internet protections. If all goes to plan for Pai, by as early as January, internet providers will be permitted to speed up access to some websites that are willing and able to pay.

 

Ajit_V._Pai_headshot
Ajit Pai, the head of the FCC and the man who wants to abolish Net Neutrality.

 

Now you might think to yourself “why should I care about Net Neutrality? Isn’t this something that’s only going to affect Americans?”

The answer is no, no it’s not. I’ll examine what a world without Net Neutrality would look like and the implications of the U.S.A.’s abolition of its Net Neutrality laws and what you might be able to do about it.

Here’s a breakdown of what U.S. service plans could look like without Net Neutrality:

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As you can see, the abolition of Net Neutrality laws in the U.S. would enable internet service providers to divide the internet up in any way that they please, this could very easily result in the stratification of the internet, and in turn cause the 200+ million U.S. users to be divided up in several different ways, whether the websites that people can visit will be dictated by preference or by ability to pay for certain packages remains to be seen, but after Net Neutrality is abolished in the U.S. this could become a very real scenario. The division of the internet on this scale doesn’t just affect U.S. citizens, it will affect us in Ireland as well. If the internet becomes divided in this way it will affect who we will interact with online, whether that’s through the medium of social media or any other means of internet communication.

 

Implications of the abolition of Net Neutrality:

We could see business models completely upturned, as well as smaller companies struggling to compete against multinational corporations that can afford to pay internet service providers millions of dollars in order to get priority speeds and to prevent them from throttling the consumer’s bandwidth on their website. Smaller companies and startups will not be able to compete against such competition, this will almost certainly stifle innovation and it quite clearly disincentivises individuals from taking risks and starting their own businesses.

 

The arguments for Net Neutrality:

There are several arguments put forward in favour of the abolition of Net Neutrality, the most common of these are as follows:

  • The rules have discouraged investment
  • It stifles small businesses with reporting and restrictions
  • The internet wasn’t broken before the Net Neutrality laws were introduced in 2015 and ISPs don’t block or throttle
  • It takes authority away from the FTC, which has historically guarded privacy rights

It should be noted many of these have been refuted numerous times and the claims made are rarely backed up by empirical evidence.

What can I do to help the cause of Net Neutrality?

Unless you’re a U.S. citizen…, at the moment, not much, but you can help raise awareness of Net Neutrality in the European Digital single market by talking about it with friends or family. Keep your fingers crossed that we won’t have to deal with a similar situation in Europe in the future.

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