Although I’m sure most of you have already heard about it one way or another, I feel like this topic needs further explaining. It’s so important and vital that we cannot simply ignore it and hope that nothing changes or takes a turn for the worse. If you’re not from the U.S. you’re still affected, so I wouldn’t turn this article off if I were you. I’ll get to how everyone’s affected in a moment, but first, let’s take a look at the cold hard facts.
What is Internet Neutrality?
Internet Neutrality is the basic idea that Internet service providers (or ISPs for short) should treat everyone’s data equally. Provided the information is legal and not something prohibited, nothing and no one should dictate what gets sent quicker. This means that an e-mail from your mom is just as important as a bank transfer.
Net neutrality also underlies that no ISP can block or deny access to a website. This is especially important, since your internet provider can’t deny you access to their competitors’ sites. For these reasons, internet neutrality is usually thought of as the first amendment of the internet.
Why are we discussing internet neutrality now?
On the 14th of December, 2017, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) entirely scrapped the regulations which protect net neutrality in America. In a close 3-2 vote they entirely repealed the rules which were enforced by the Obama administration back in 2015. This caused such a stir that some states even vowed to introduce their state-wide regulations for the protection of net neutrality.
The main beneficiaries from all of this
It’s a case of “the rich get richer”. By removing any sort of internet regulations, this basically hands over the internet to large internet service providers. Without rules to care about, their hands are free and they can discriminate and prefer certain websites over others. Large ISPs will focus their own services and discriminate their rivals’ offerings, all the while charging other companies for access of bandwidth.
Big sites like Google and Facebook stand to benefit too. As they have no chance of being blocked or throttled back since they’re not associated with any ISP, the rules will effectively eliminate or reduce competition from smaller firms who risk discrimination of ISPs.
The internet is more than a place for reading fun and interesting articles or watching cute videos. It’s become the main communications platform for people across the globe. Millions of people work online, and even more are free to express their freedom of speech and connect to other peers. In short, it’s the biggest and best thing to happen to the world since the invention of electricity.
Since its invention, the internet has been completely neutral and that was its biggest advantage. The principle that all legal data should be treated equally is what basically kick-started the digital economy. The internet, as we know it, is now under threat though.
The revision of the internet neutrality rules don’t just discriminate certain websites and startups, but people as well. You will no longer be able to simply connect to the internet via an ISP provider. I mean you will, but the services are probably going to be extremely limited. For a faster connection or access to certain websites you’ll have to cough up more.
Given that 69 million people in the U.S. can’t afford home-based internet services, we’re only going to see that number increase in the months and years ahead. Big ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are free to do whatever they like. Not only will they promote their services and slow down the connection to their rivals’ websites, but they can also choose to not show you a site at all if they deem it too competitive.
The implications outside the U.S.
Most countries have some net neutrality rules, which more or less imply the same. Although the FCC lifted the regulations in the U.S. only, don’t think the rest of us living outside America will feel no effects from this.
If you’re a small company or a new startup, the future isn’t looking as bright as it did before. Without the massive budget of sites like Google to be able to afford to buy bandwidth from ISPs, getting off the ground is going to prove to be a real challenge. If you’re in the U.S. you might as well forget about competing. A lot of people will, in my opinion, start taking their business elsewhere, outside the U.S., but that’s not a great solution either.
A lot of traffic, even for websites based outside the U.S., comes from people living there. Now you’re faced with another issue. For starters, ISPs in America will soon favor domestic websites and services rather than foreign, i.e., even if you can afford bandwidth I’m fairly sure you won’t be treated equal as someone based in the U.S.
Turning the internet into a sort-of pay-to-play platform is going to set us back decades. Splitting websites and services into fast and slow lanes will tip the scales in favor of the privileged very few. That’s why I stated even in the beginning: “The rich get richer.”
The internet should be controlled by the people of America, not their internet service providers. The American people themselves should have a saying over what is allowed online, and not big greedy corporations. This has to be the FCC’s biggest flunk in the history of its existence. By failing to preserve net neutrality and the open internet, we stand to lose the most critical and vital communications tool of our lifetime.
The situation in Winlock, Washington, is apparently so grim that just downloading Microsoft Office takes three days. People have to get up as early as 3 AM only to secure enough bandwidth and upload files needed for their professional needs.
What really scares me is how serious the situation has gotten. Once the wheels on the bus start moving, it’s really difficult to stop it. If we are to protect our internet, it’s imperative that we do however. If not, I’m afraid this can spread to other countries and continents as well. And that, would be the end of the free world as we know it.