By Mike Cronin
Net Neutrality is in the news again. What’s the big deal?
The current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai (A Trump appointee) has proposed to roll back Net Neutrality rules. Net Neutrality is a legal doctrine that says that Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, such as Cox, Comcast, or AT&T, must treat all data equally, i.e. neutrally. In other words, it bans ISPs from blocking, slowing down, or accelerating some internet traffic over other traffic. Some examples:
- Net Neutrality bans a provider, such as Comcast, from blocking or “throttling” (i.e. slowing) traffic that originated from a competitor.
- Net Neutrality bans a provider from blocking access to political sites it might disagree with.
- Net Neutrality prohibits ISPs from prioritizing streaming media over email.
Advocates of Net Neutrality believe that such laws are necessary to ensure “freedom of access” to information, i.e. that we consumers should all have exactly the same amount of access to “get on the web,” and we should all have exactly the same access to bandwidth while we are there. As a consumer, that sounds pretty good, right? (76% of Americans believe it does.) So, what’s wrong with that?
The advocates are evading context. Regardless of how important, useful, and even critical the internet has become, it just isn’t theirs, nor is it the government’s, to control. As it turns out, what we think of as the “Internet” has both “public domain” and private components. The computer languages and protocols used to create and link websites and to transfer data “packets” are in the public domain, i.e. their creators gave them to the world. On the other hand, all of the computers, servers, cables, fiber optic lines, modems, routers, etc. that data is hosted on and travels over belong to their owners – the ISPs, web hosting companies, content providers, etc. and consumers – us. In other words, the physical components of the Internet are primarily composed of private property.
Imagine that in 1789, when the Constitution was ratified, the government instituted Publishing Neutrality right along with the First Amendment. Publishing Neutrality says that publishing firms can’t prioritize publishing large corporate orders (such as text books for a school system) over small orders (such as an obscure book on pet lizard grooming), and they have to charge the same amount per page for each book they print (regardless of the economy of scale or the material used). Such a law would have destroyed the publishing industry, and would have done nothing to further the right of free speech.
Advocates fear that without Net Neutrality, ISPs will act unfairly and consumers will pay the price. I’m not in a hurry to have worse service or higher prices myself, but the alternative, Net Neutrality, is the government, primarily in the form of the FCC, telling ISPs what they can and cannot do with their own private property. That is a hallmark of fascism. For that reason alone, we should seek to end it.
Pro Net Neutrality bias:
Anti-Net Neutrality bias