Photo courtesy of businesswolf.com
By Finn Gallagher
With the help of net neutrality, “free and open” internet will die with applause. There, I said it. Now who’s afraid of commitment, Leah (my girlfriend from fifth grade?) To preface, I’m not a representative of a big, scary corporation, and the only reason that it’s a secret that I hate all things associated with the federal government is because I don’t have any friends (applications are still open).
But as “#sewaneestudents4netneutrality” becomes increasingly popular, it’s come time to dissect the issue. If you support net neutrality because, deep down, you’re afraid someone might force you to use Bing, understand that that’s a completely rational and justified fear. The threat of having to use Bing causes men to flee, but it doesn’t change the fact that net neutrality is ultimately a solution in search of a problem.
As opposed to putting a band-aid on a brain tumor, net neutrality is like putting a band-aid on a thing that is nothing and therefore doesn’t exist (there’s your G3 credit). Of course, people are worried that unregulated business practices might lead to companies taking advantage of consumers, but those fears are largely unfounded. Take it from me, not a representative of a big, scary corporation, I promise.
To oversimplify, net neutrality would redefine actual, physical internet cables under Title II of the Communications of Act of 1934 as a “public utility,” like water pipes or phone lines, so service providers have to use them in the exact same way. Doing so basically minimizes competition, in order to guarantee an increased level of stability in the industry. According to those in support of net neutrality, a world without it has two spooky hypotheticals: 1) internet service providers (ISPs) will slow down websites that refuse to pay them, or 2) block or censor websites they don’t like.
Only, there’s nothing hypothetical about it: a world without net neutrality in literally any capacity existed long before February 2015, and the internet seemed to work fairly well without it. The spooky hypotheticals remained completely hypothetical. In an apocalyptic wasteland without net neutrality, ISPs would be free to charge premium rates, which sounds unfair, but companies already do in other industries. You paying a kind of “premium rate” for higher quality goods and services is effectively the difference between McDonald’s and Sardi’s, but no one in Washington is clamoring that a Big Mac costs the same as a Big Sard.
Consider for example, airlines: the more expensive first-class tickets grant additional privileges that aren’t associated with the comparatively cheaper ones in coach. But, regardless of the ticket someone buys, airlines won’t deny anyone the right to fly wherever they want. Take it from someone who cannot stress enough that he isn’t even a representative of a big, scary corporation — that would be a monumentally stupid decision.
Big corporations kind of suck, yes, and it’s no secret that companies, as a collective, are really only motivated by making money, but they also understand that their consumers have wants and needs, and meeting them is what makes money. If American Airlines won’t stop you from flying to the JFK Airport because they’re afraid you might fly Delta on the way back, there’s no reason to assume that Comcast would stop you from watching YouTube because you might see an add for AT&T.
In any case, you’d just hit “Skip Ad” anyway, and if they didn’t give you a “Skip Ad” button, you’d just resent AT&T for not putting one in their stupid ad. Even in the imaginary scenario wherein your service provider blocks your access to YouTube because they want you to use (ugh) Vimeo instead, someone smarter will come along and say that, if you use their services, you get YouTube for free. There will always be one — demand for YouTube (and other mastodons like Google or Instagram) is far too high for there simply not to be.
At the same time, there are also those who say “the internet is a human right, so something-something net neutrality!” In response, I will present a series of rhetorical questions. Can internet access be considered a human right insomuch that it is necessary to maintain or improve quality of life, when its availability is dependent on quality of life to begin with? And even if the internet is a human right, is optimized, or even just “fast,” internet a human right, too?
If so, is it a human rights violation that Delaware’s average connectivity speed is 25.2 Megabits per second, while Idaho’s is only 12.0? If the government really wants to equalize the internet, shouldn’t they be trying to improve the internet infrastructure in periphery parts of the country (or world) instead of sticking it to a bunch of business who haven’t done anything wrong yet, in order to solve a crisis that hasn’t happened?
And why do big, scary corporations like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter unquestioningly support net neutrality? Is it because they’re the “nicer” big, scary corporations that aren’t motivated by profit? Or is it because regulatory burdens mostly affect small startups, as opposed to large and well-established businesses like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter? This concludes the series of rhetorical questions.
The internet, in its fledgling state, is constantly changing, and will continue to do so for awhile, as will the questions about the ethics of the internet, until we better understand how it’s become socially organized. Right now, it’s literally more than a billion people running around doing whatever all the time (and porn). YouTube was founded in 2005 and Netflix launched its streaming service in 2007, and back when Netflix was founded as a video-mailing service in 1998, the internet was a very different animal.
Services like AOL, AskJeeves, and Blockbuster Online once proudly roamed the savannah, but now their desiccated corpses litter the internet like the elephant graveyard from The Lion King. Today, the government and big established ISPs, ones that buy government contracts and sponsor campaign funds, are using the FCC and net neutrality like a baseball-bat-with-like-nails-sticking-out-of-it-and-stuff to artificially raise the barriers of entry and disincentivize meaningful, consumer-friendly innovation that would cut them out of the industry, under the guise of making the internet “free and open.” Yes, freedom of information may very well be in danger, but net neutrality is not the solution; it’s part of the problem.