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Net Neutrality

Abby McNeece

ACLU compares net neutrality to fair phone calls: all internet traffic flows freely, no extra charges for streaming - but providers and investment worry. Weigh facts before supporting or opposing.

The ACLU drafted an article answering questions about net neutrality. In it, they make a comparison, telling, “Imagine if [a] phone company could mess with your calls — through bad connections or frequent dropped calls — when you tried to order pizza from Domino's because Pizza Hut is paying them.”  


There are many different pros and cons to net neutrality, but first, what is net neutrality? According to Merriam-Webster, net neutrality is, “the idea, principle, or requirement that Internet service providers should or must treat all Internet data as the same regardless of its kind, source, or destination.” On the same page of the definition, they give a quote for further context. Sarah Rabil says “...A philosophical contest that's being fought under the banner of '" net neutrality,’" a slogan that inspires rhetorical devotion but eludes precise definition. Broadly, it means everything on the Internet should be equally accessible—that the Internet should be a place where great ideas compete on equal terms with big money.” 


One proof of net neutrality is that internet service providers, or ISPs, cannot charge you for accessing certain sites. For example, ISPs, with no net neutrality laws in place, would be able to charge consumers extra money to visit a site like Netflix, YouTube, or Twitter. The IT Pro team authored an article about the pros and cons of net neutrality, saying that, “[Net neutrality] also prevents the possibility of providers charging end users an extra fee to access vital services, like online banking or email, or entertainment platforms like gaming networks (or of the owners of these services from passing their costs onto end users).” In addition, Samantha Masunaga and Jim Puzzanghera of the LA Times authored an article about net neutrality, saying that, “…supporters of net neutrality say consumers could be charged extra to stream certain content if they don’t want to be hampered by network congestion. Others have warned that customer choice of internet service providers could shrink, and prices of broadband service could increase.”  


The IT Pro Team also wrote, “Google can't pay for faster access to their websites, and a tiny video streaming service should, in theory, be as speedy and glitch-free as Netflix. Net neutrality squashes the potential for internet fast lanes, where internet service providers can charge content creators for enough bandwidth to deliver their service properly.” These costs would hurt small businesses and start-ups and would lead to the customer having to be charged more money for the service or product.  


One interesting argument of the ISPs refers to charging the companies more money, such as YouTube or Google. These websites use lots of bandwidth, meaning the ISPs must spend more money to keep the website up. If they were able to charge money to the individual companies, then the ISPs argue that then there would be more innovation for new services. However, reports are conflicting on whether this is true or not. For example, Klint Finley from WIRED wrote an article titled “The FCC Says Net Neutrality Cripples Investment. That's Not True.” In it, Finley states, “[T]he [Federal Communications Commission] cites industry-funded studies concluding that investment in internet infrastructure declined 3 percent in 2015 and another 2 percent in 2016. The proposal also claims that internet providers delayed new offerings, such as home-wireless plans or streaming video services.”  

On the contrary, Finley writes, “[T]he nation's largest internet provider increased its spending during this period, as did several other companies. Others cut spending, but said the drops stemmed from completion of longer-term plans.” So, while investment in internet infrastructure may have dropped for some ISPs, the largest one increased its spending. Finley also writes about another claim by the FCC, telling, “The FCC says repealing the net-neutrality rules will remove ‘regulatory uncertainty for broadband providers, and encourage them to boost spending. But the proposal will increase uncertainty for other internet companies, most notably small content providers, who may face stiff fees to distribute their work—and in some cases may not even try.” 


One way in which net neutrality is negative is the idea that access to the internet could be free. Thanks to people paying more fees for an ISP’s services, other people who could not afford internet would be able to receive it for free. This helps boost the world wide web, as these people can experience the joys of online accessibility and other modern amenities, which are vital today, without having to pay a generous sum of money for them.  

The FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, posts a yearly report with statistics involving how many people still do not have internet. According to the FCC’s website, 6% of the United States population does not have access to the internet. This may not sound like a lot, but because of the expansive population of the United States, it equates to over 19 million people (about the population of New York). Now, imagine what ISPs could do with the extra money to build infrastructure and new internet lines so that these people can receive internet access.  

In the same report, it says that over 100 million Americans have access to the internet but do not currently subscribe to broadband. This is concerning, as it shows a lack of connectivity. Will increasing prices of internet usage, which supporters of net neutrality say ISPs will do, drive more people off the internet? That stays to be seen.  


In the end, it is important to be aware of all the facts. This is a controversial issue, and people and politicians will often spin or distort the facts to make a case for their argument. Be sure you know what is true, and once you do, you can help support, or help defeat, net neutrality. 

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