Update: The FCC approved net neutrality regulations by a 3 to 2 vote Thursday.
Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’re reading it on the Internet. And chances are, you most definitely did not log on to your computer or turn on your phone with the intention of reading this specific article. Perhaps you were browsing your social media feeds or watching that funny video your friend sent you before you somehow stumbled upon this article.
In your Internet-accessing excitement, did you for one second pause and think of the principle of net neutrality and how it affects the way you interact with your information? Probably not, but a vote to be taken Thursday on the issue of net neutrality by the Federal Communications Commission, the governing body for the Internet in the U.S., might fundamentally change the kind of information you access and make you think more critically about where you’re getting your information.
The Paly Voice summarizes the issue at hand and presents them in five minutes or less.
What is net neutrality?
The point of dispute behind the vote Thursday is whether the principle of net neutrality should be preserved. According to the FCC, net neutrality is simply the idea that all information on the Internet should be treated equally and that consumers are able to freely make choices on the type of content they access.
What are the issues at stake?
In April of last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a plan to allow Internet Service Providers (companies you pay to access the Internet like AT&T and Comcast), or ISPs, to create high-speed fast lanes for those who pay a premium, according to Free Press. However, this proposal violates the basis of net neutrality: to treat all data equally.
If such a proposal went through, companies willing to shell out the big bucks would have their data prioritized over everyone else’s, and smaller websites belonging to small businesses, non-profits, schools, individuals – websites like yours truly – would be subject to regular-speed (read: slow) lanes. Even though websites not paying premiums to ISPs would still be accessible, the Free Press’s website on net neutrality warns that this is a precursor to possible censorship of information on behalf of the ISPs by slowing “regularly laned” information to such a pace that it can’t be accessed.
After the proposal, the FCC opened up an online comment forum, which resulted in a record number of responses (thanks in part to a “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” episode). The proposal was narrowly denied by a 3 to 2 vote, and the idea of “fast lane” was fortuitously dropped. Now, the FCC will instead be taking a vote on Feb. 26 to reclassify ISPs as Title II carriers, a grouping that currently applies to telecommunication service companies. Under this new classification, there will be heavier government involvement in regulation with the supposed intent of minimizing the chances that more proposals like that introduced last April appear or somehow get passed.
Why are people divided on this issue?
Like most political issues, people are divided on the role that the government should play in people’s lives. In theory, by putting the Internet under government control, it becomes harder for a few firms to monopolize the ISP market and easier for smaller firms and start ups to succeed. As a result, more competition exists, and if one company unfairly jacks up the prices (as people suspect they might), the consumer can simply switch providers.
However, history has shown that the government is never necessarily the cure-all for any given problem. For example, look at the criticisms directed at the new ObamaCare initiative. On the last official day of ObamaCare enrollment, the website crashed, and recently, about 800,000 customers received faulty tax information from the site. Furthermore, lobbyists’ influence in politics (as exemplified by last April’s debacle) makes some weary about the future of government-controlled neutrality.
While politicians have been debating this issue for quite some time now, senior members of the Republican Party announced yesterday that they will probably not act against the upcoming policy shift with a legislative response.
At the end of the day, most people agree that net neutrality is a basic right and should be universally existent. The central issue lies in how we arrive at that final destination; based on one’s political ideology, the government may or may not be involved.