If you follow tech news, you’ll notice that many reports talk about net neutrality and how it can affect us all negatively if it would be removed. For years, a set of standards existed that kept the internet “fair” for all of its users. Would it be beneficial to lift the veil on it, or should we keep the web balanced? This question goes far into the world of politics, but we’re not going to talk about ideology right now. Instead, let’s talk about the points of view both for and against net neutrality.
What Is “Net Neutrality”?
You obviously know what the term “net” is, but if you’re asking this question, you probably don’t know what “neutrality” refers to. The term “net neutrality” is used to describe an idea demanding that all data on the internet be treated equally. This means that no one will be charged more for accessing certain websites, like they would on television for viewing channels outside of the base subscription. Net neutrality appears in most developed and developing nations. However, there are varying degrees of centralized regulation of the internet in each one. Despite these nuances, the principles of net neutrality are exercised pervasively in one form or another around the globe.
Do not confuse net neutrality with anti-censorship. It’s easy to mix up the two, but think of it this way: Censorship is more a government thing, but net neutrality deals more with internet service providers and how they treat the data flow to their customers. A “net-neutral” service provider provides the same quality of service (to the best degree it can deliver) for each customer regardless of the website that the customer connects to.
What Would Happen If Net Neutrality Didn’t Exist?
With the veil lifted on corporations, they’d be able to charge you in much the same way that your television provider does. If you access a website that’s not part of your “basic package”, you’re subject to extra fees (per gigabyte, per minute, or whatever they deem is appropriate). This is kind of disruptive for a number of reasons:
- It damages small-time content publishers that do not have the leverage to convince an internet service provider to include them in a subscription package.
- It restricts what users can see and effectively eliminates the idea of the internet being an open forum.
- The very companies that exercise closed internet subscriptions will suffer a significant amount of backlash, which will hurt their margins.
Of course, it’s naive to think that fiber and copper (wired internet) providers would engage in severely closed internet packages for their subscribers. Fiber provides a near-infinite amount of bandwidth at such a low cost, that I’m pretty sure they’re not so concerned about throttling services to distribute bandwidth properly. Providers stuck on copper might throttle services slightly (some of them do this already), but they won’t resort to filters. If net neutrality falls, we might see the effects of it exercised on 4G LTE and other wireless carrier networks more than anywhere else.
Aside from these points, there’s also the looming danger that internet service providers will have to succumb to their competition should they close up the web into a little box. Google and a few other service providers have shown strong support for net neutrality. The cost-effectiveness at which a fiber network can be implemented makes it very easy for up-and-coming competitors to eat up the dinosaur service providers. It’s inevitable that non-neutral companies will fail at their game if they try this on wired networks. The story of wireless networks is different, however, because of their nature. For example, carriers having trouble keeping customers will heavily subsidize the phones to attract more contracts. There’s another side to this, though: Their customers could still have the freedom to browse the web through a Wi-Fi connection routed through a fiber network. This is what they count on, and why mobile subscribers might not think of it as “such a raw deal.”
Don’t get me wrong: It’s going to be very painful if any service provider closes up the web. It’s just unlikely that such a model will prevail in the long run considering the high availability of resources available to entrepreneurs who want to provide neutral access to the internet.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Are we in danger of losing neutrality? What do you think providers will do if neutrality requirements were lifted? Let us know in a comment below!