Net Neutrality: Protecting the Internet
©2011 Luke Seelenbinder
Net Neutrality: Protecting the Internet
A wise person once said, “He who controls the media, controls the world” (Anonymous ). The world is full of media, but none so powerful and dominating as the Internet. Unfortunately, the Internet is in danger of domination; it is in danger of elite power-mongers or proﬁt-driven corporations controlling its power for their own interests. The Internet must not be controlled by elite entities, or it will potentially reduce the world to the control of those entities. Two opposing positions seek to solve this issue: the ﬁrst seeks to solve by allowing the free-market to work its magic and the second is dubbed Net neutrality. Net neutrality is the idea that all Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all data as equal. Essentially, net neutrality morphs ISPs to content pipes (i.e., similar to the function of water companies) instead of content controllers and eliminates ISPs’ ability to sell better pipes to the higher bidders. Net neutrality will remove the potential of elites controlling the Internet. Therefore, the United States should enact net neutrality. First, net neutrality protects legal content. Legal content may seem unnecessary to protect; however, most ISPs are cable television and telephone providers, and the Internet, because of its intrinsic power, oﬀers great competition to cable and telephone services. Competition presents an issue: ISPs must choose between facilitating their own competition (by allowing competing web services),
hampering such services, or outrightly censoring competitors. Net neutrality prevents the latter two and protects an open market. First, net neutrality protects legal content from discrimination. Discrimination is specialized treatment of data. ISPs might choose “to carve oﬀ bandwidth for their own services—namely, television” or “more controversially to charge selected companies a toll for priority service” (Wu, “Why You…” ). Both types of discrimination are harmful to the Internet; the former reduces the speed and reliability thereof, and the latter gives companies with more money and negotiation powers an upper-hand in reaching consumers, creating an uneven playing ﬁeld. In “The Battle for the Net,” Eric Larson says inequitable treatment of media producers is outlawed with net neutrality (). Hence, net neutrality levels the playing ﬁeld for all players, big and small. Second, net neutrality protects legal content from censorship. Censorship of legal content in any public network violates guaranteed ﬁrst amendment rights. Due to the competition oﬀered to cable television and telephone services, the Internet presents a dilemma. By censoring these competitors, ISPs can easily protect their income from television and telephone services. Larson notes that net neutrality dictates ISPs have no right to censor any website or “web-based service” (). ISPs no longer have a dilemma. Second, net neutrality preserves the status quo of the Internet for users. The status quo might not seem to be a good place to be. Change is a good thing, correct? Amazingly, the Internet now (as pertaining to the medium itself) holds as much
power as it possibly could. John Thorne, a Verizon executive, however, argues that ISPs are expending signiﬁcant money to create a better and faster infrastructure (e.g., ﬁber-optic networks) (in Mohammed ) and, therefore, want to recoup expenses. ISPs wish to regain the money in two main ways. Both are detrimental to users, and net neutrality would outlaw both. First, net neutrality preserves the current pricing structure of the Internet. The pricing structure of today is a straight access fee, and pricing tiers are based oﬀ of access speed. By reducing the Internet to a market tiered by accessibility of various websites and services, ISPs can equate it with cable television subscriptions—both in proﬁts and design. Such radical restructuring of the Internet would be immensely hurtful to consumers. Consumers would have to pay more for Internet service and receive less. In the words of a former executive at Apple and HP, the Internet would become a set of “walled gardens, where diﬀerent services are contained within the bounds of subscriptions” (Norman ). ISPs say net neutrality limits their proﬁt potential (Larson ), and that is exactly what the consumer desires. Consumers wish for the status quo; it works well for them. Second, net neutrality preserves users’ ability to access services. ISPs might not go to the extreme of tiering the Internet, but they will, no doubt, wish to block certain websites—if only for the money. Video and gaming sites, video conferencing, and other such sites cost more for an ISP to serve because of the higher bandwidth and server-load requirements. Therefore, ISPs want
to limit the access to those sites. “[The] big concern,” says Vinton G. Cerf, instrumental in creating the Internet, “is that suddenly access providers want to step in the middle and create a toll road to limit customers’ ability to get access to services of their choice even though they have paid for access to the network in the ﬁrst place” (qtd. in Mohammed ). Net neutrality prevents unnecessary tiering and higher charges, solidifying the status quo. Third, and most important, net neutrality perpetuates Internet innovation. The Internet is a tremendous platform for innovation. Entrepreneurs and hobbyists alike have produced earthshaking products using the Internet backbone. The opportunity needs to remain. Net neutrality works two ways to preserve innovation. First, net neutrality preserves the ability for entrepreneurs to innovate. Google’s cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin believe in the indispensability of the free Internet to foster innovation, saying, “an unrestrictive Internet browsing experience is necessary in order for the next Google—the next new big idea—to take hold” (qtd. in Bollman 7). The world needs the next Google—and the next—and the next. Net neutrality can repair and further strengthen the foundations on which the next Google can build. Furthermore, “[t]he ability to tinker and experiment without watching a meter provides an important impetus to innovate” (Zittrain 158). Innovation is crucial to a strong economy and country. The Internet should aid innovation. Second, net neutrality solidiﬁes the Internet as an open and powerful
access to innovation. As things stand, the Internet is slowly being locked down. Don Norman, a Silicon Valley veteran, says, “More and more of our open, universal networks are becoming locked down, available only from within the walls erected by corporate interests” (). A locked Internet loses the majority of its power; users want access to the best service, whether or not it is the most aﬄuent. Wu decries the possibility of a high-bidder market; “If discrimination reigned on the Internet[,] a transformation [would take place] from a market where innovation rules to one where deal-making rules” (Wu, “Why You…” ). When the Internet greats are the dealmakers and large corporations, the Internet cannot provide a good platform for the consumers to access innovation. The United States should pass net neutrality legislation. It must pass—for the sake of the Internet, its citizens, and, ultimately, the world. If the Internet becomes dominated by elite corporations or even just the highest bidder, it will lose its power. Norman sees it: “[J]ust as previous corporate warlords used the existence of real ineﬃciencies and deﬁciencies in other media to gain control, … large corporations will try to use the deﬁciencies of the Internet to exert control and exclusivity. All the better, they will claim, to provide safe, secure and harmonious operation, while incidentally enhancing proﬁts and reducing competition” ([4-5]). Net neutrality will decide who will control the world. How about the free people control the world, not the power-mongers.
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