In the summer of re-emerging battles that netizens and activists have thought won, yet another materializes before our very eyes. Within the past few months I have written about defeated bills like the CISA bill (aka SOPA) and long defeated 90’s era cryptography policies. The newest resurrection is the net neutrality battle which although is ongoing has been given new supporters by way of the GOP.
Net Neutrality in a Nutshell
What net neutrality suggests is that all internet should be treated equally. As of now (for the most part), that is how information transferred over the internet is treated. No company pays to have their content transferred and loaded faster. On the Internet Service Provider (abbreviated ISP- think AT&T, Comcast, Verizon) side they don’t throttle the speed (or aren’t supposed to) of certain services or sites.
Those against net neutrality want exactly the opposite. They want services like Netflix, that albeit does takes up 34% of all US traffic at times, to have to pay more for using up so much bandwidth. Opponents argue that without the ability to charge for this ISPs have no incentive to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure. Furthermore, opposition also emanates from the general mistrust of the government and the all-encompassing reliance on the ‘free-hand’ of the market.
As you might have guessed, as always, the issue lies with money. If companies are forced to pay for reasonable internet speeds- and can pay more for faster speeds to garner more customers- then smaller companies will be at a severe disadvantage. The typical image that people use to describe the internet without net neutrality is having ‘slow lanes’ and ‘fast lanes’ for those that pay for the speed. Not to mention the potential to charge the end user (you) to speed up their favorite services. Thus, it would take that much more capital in order to be competitive and break into the market than say Netflix, Google, and Hulu dominate.
FCC Ruling on Net Neutrality
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently ruled that ISPs are to remain classified as ‘common carriers.’ Broadband services were attempting to repeal the FCC’s reclassification of this from ‘information services’ and subsequent implementation of net neutrality. Their basis of argument was that the rules violate their First Amendment rights. In it’s arguments the FCC said:
Nobody understands broadband providers to be sending a message or endorsing speech when transmitting the Internet content that a user has requested.
They further simplify the idea by saying, “When a user directs her browser to the New York Times or Wall Street Journal editorial page, she has no reason to think that the views expressed there are those of her broadband provider.”
The broadband companies’ appeal was not successful because the court found that common carriers do not have free speech rights as seen time and time again in Supreme Court rulings. So, for now at least, net neutrality is safe.
Against Net Neutrality= Against the Grain
First let me say that by no means is going against the norm bad or detrimental. If anything, society benefits as a whole for the most part when this happens.
But this is not one of those cases.
All of the GOP front runners have come out in staunch opposition of net neutrality. Not one of them supports it. Some, like Carly Fiorina, say that “Regulation over innovation is a really bad role for government.” This seems to be a bit of a quandary: yes preventing this could be seen as regulation- however, it is fostering competition and innovation at the same time. Not to mention surely saving the public from extra costs.
Others, like Marco Rubio, are skittish because the FCC ruling actually gave more power to the government than what they need to prevent net neutrality from happening. He somehow argues that because there are limited cases of ISPs creating speed lanes that if net neutrality were defeated the number of cases could not rise significantly.
For much of the same reasons Jeb Bush has said that he would, “repeal or reform the most onerous Obama rules and regulations.”
And then you have GOP candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz who either didn’t hear the question or have no idea what net neutrality is. Carson, for example, said that Obama wants to “impose another level of secrecy and control in the private lives of citizens.” Ted Cruz called net neutrality, “Obamacare for the Internet;” saying, “the Internet should not operate at the speed of the government.” And the lovely Donald Trump chimed in on the issue saying, “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine [Wikipedia breakdown here]. Will target conservative media.”
Ironically, even more Republican voters than Democratic voters support net neutrality. 85% of Republicans, and 81% of Democrats support net neutrality. Why then, might you ask, are Republicans so against net neutrality? Money. According to time.com, “Comcast spent more on lobbying members of Congress in 2012 than any other company in the entire country, except Northrop Grumman…”
With such outright opposition so early on in the presidential race it is hard to imagine net neutrality being able to survive a Republican presidency.
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