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Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites. The discussion on net neutrality has arisen once again.

The new head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, under President Trump, is a former Verizon lawyer now operating on behalf of the major telecoms from inside the government. His first act on the job was to dismiss ongoing investigations by the FCC into “zero-rating” plans. These plans allow certain websites to not count towards user data caps, giving obvious preferential treatment to these sites. This is exactly what net neutrality is intended to prevent. The Obama administration heavily investigated these cases; however the new administration seems more inclined to pass them off as useless regulations.

What net neutrality means is that it doesn’t matter if the information or content comes from Netflix, Google, Facebook or any other website; all information should be delivered with the same speed and reliability by the internet service provider. This is a critical issue because the open nature of the internet is not only what allowed the previously mentioned companies to grow, but it has directly influenced our daily lives and acted as a catalyst for much of the recent economic innovation.

Without net neutrality, a tiered online world would emerge, where success is determined by inclusions in bundles; similar to that of cable. A consumer would buy “basic” internet and add a “premium” package to get access to certain subscribed websites. Subscribed bundled websites would either not count towards your monthly data cap or would be delivered to the consumer with greater speed in comparison to other websites, but not any faster than they are currently delivered. Imagine the limitations this would have on start-up internet businesses, as consumers would have to be willing to have these new websites count towards their data cap or else endure incredibly slow loading times in order to support an online business operating outside a bundled package.

Former President Obama better understood the magnitude of free and open internet. He worked with the FCC to establish the Open Internet Order, creating an effective set of rules to maintain net neutrality. It is concerning to see the new FCC head claim that this order was a “big mistake” and that the agency intends to return to a “light-touch” regulatory approach; clearly a warning that the fight for net neutrality has begun once again.

The removal or reduction of regulations is a common theme of the Trump administration. Despite the pros and cons of restrictive measures, certain rules and principles should apply. The very job of regulation is to establish a level playing field for which businesses can conduct themselves while protecting the population from unfair practices. Regulations should promote a fair and open market allowing anyone to have a fair chance in creating a business.

A big problem with regards to the internet is the limited number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that exist in the west. This allows only a few companies to control most of the continent’s internet pipeline and fully control internet access. Without net neutrality, ISPs will be able to charge both consumers and corporations whatever prices they deem suitable to send and receive data fast and reliably. There is not enough competition to allow normal market conditions to self-regulate prices, so this is a concern and requires regulatory measures to ensure ISPs act fairly.

A way to improve this potential situation would be by making current ISPs “common carriers” meaning their last mile of cable connection to the homes/offices would be available to all competitors under the same terms that gave dial-up providers access to copper phone lines in the 1990’s. This would allow for more competition and would give consumers and corporations more leverage in their bargaining pricing power for their internet service. The major ISPs recognize this threat and it is the reason why they invest so heavily in lobbying efforts to ban locally provided broadband at the state level.

Internet has become a necessity to our society and is a good example of an industry that must be regulated. It has intertwined itself inexplicably with the western life making its upkeep critically important. With the limited competition ISPs face they already provide horrendous customer service (Comcast won the most hated company of the year). Imagine what that service would be like with even less regulations and restrictions on how they can serve their customers.

What the new head of FCC is now proposing would ruin the innovative spirit and the backbone of the western economy in order to enhance the profits of a few giant companies. Each time their efforts are defeated they try again, with additional resources and power. The internet must be free, open and fair for everyone.

The Summerhill Team

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