The Concept of “Net Neutrality”
The Internet has revolutionized the way people communicate, trade, generate knowledge, and entertain each other. Although less so in recent years, the Internet has been a safe haven for anyone to say and do things they would never say and do in real life. The free access to every piece of knowledge, media, and culture has given people a never-before-seen opportunity to better themselves. It has been the greatest marketplace, the greatest conference room, and the greatest lawless frontier town that humans have ever seen. Naturally, this unrestricted freedom tends to be an eyesore for some people that stand to gain from limiting it.
Net neutrality means that all Internet Service Providers must allow equal unrestricted access to all content for all the consumers regardless of the nature of the content and any extraneous circumstances. The term emphasizes a lack of restrictions and regulations that would impede user freedom to access the content and resources they want. The entire conflict around net neutrality stems from ISPs attempting to engage in unethical business practices. These practices include blocking access to specific resources either to suppress them or to coerce additional payment. Another example would be deliberately throttling internet bandwidth for some platforms and services.
Alternatively, the providers could give preferential treatment to their own content or that of their business partners, which would also go against net neutrality. Neutrality is not something one has to develop; instead, it is the natural state of the Internet before all the artificial roadblocks are put in place. Personally, I am in favor of net neutrality, because I want the Internet to remain the proverbial ‘Wild West’ that it has been in its early days. The almost-unrestricted freedom makes the Internet extremely user-driven and conducive to emergent behaviors and subcultures that would be unlikely to appear in real life.
I am also a proponent of free and unrestricted access to information, including art and entertainment. The Internet also has a unique capacity to create platforms for user-generated content, promoting creativity, self-expression, and curiosity. It would be almost cruel to restrict people’s ability to access them and use them in ways they see fit. To me, there is something profane and deeply tragic in taking away people’s freedoms merely to drive profit margins.
Unfortunately, whether ISPs have a right to break net neutrality is a moot point. The incumbents have spent more than a billion on lobbying, mainly to ensure their continual sole ownership of the crucial ‘last mile’ infrastructure. That is to say nothing of their attempts to trick the public and the legislators by false information and outright bribery to keep their practices from being investigated. What this means in practice is that a handful of oligopolists have created a seller’s market and are in no rush to invest in a better quality of service.
The federal government has been inept in upholding the citizen’s rights so far. Violating net neutrality seems like a logical continuation of all the other anti-competitive and anti-consumer things the likes of Comcast and AT&T routinely engage in. As long as there is an oligopoly of the American ISPs, it truly does not matter whether net neutrality is enforced or not. Net neutrality is undoubtedly a good thing for users to have.
When enforced, it ensures that providers have to give equal access to all content on the Internet for all customers. However, as one investigates the problems with American Internet, conflicts around net neutrality start to feel insignificant and superficial. No matter how much I wish it, the Internet is not the independent user-oriented frontier, and it is unlikely ever to be that again.