For the last few weeks the internet, social media, and news outlets have been buzzing with discussion of net neutrality. There are essentially two distinct sides to this issue, and neither are going down without a fight. So, what is net neutrality and why is everyone talking about it? Let’s break it down.
Net neutrality is ability of government to regulate internet service providers so they “are forced to treat all internet traffic equally, and can’t create fast lanes to their own preferred streaming sources or websites.” This means ISPs, or internet service providers, cannot slow down internet speeds to sites like YouTube or P2P sharing sites due to the amount of bandwidth they require, or slow down the speeds of basic package users in favor of premium package users.
Proponents of net neutrality argue that without the federal government stepping in and regulating the internet, service providers such as Comcast and Verizon will start to charge for individual internet packages: you pay for what you want to use, and lose the rest. This is a big deal to companies and individuals who make their money online. Think everyone from YouTube stars to small internet businesses. Here’s an example of what everyone’s afraid of:
So, if you want basic internet service, that’ll be $29.95. Want to add on a streaming package? That’s another $10. Looking to use Google or WordPress? Dig deep for another $5. Want to utilize online news sources? You guessed it, another $5. They also suggest that we may see internet bottle-necking for users who pay less for their internet. Since without net neutrality, ISPs would be free to discriminate against users, those will less expensive packages might have slower connection speeds.
Now this is mostly theoretical. Here in the United States we have never seen this type of package division. We have, however, seen bottle-necked speeds to certain sites that require more bandwidth.
The camp in favor of Restoring Internet Freedom are all about doing away with government regulation. Why? Because they believe the government is inefficient and the invisible hand can handle the market. In their minds, if you want to use social media, you’ll pay for it. If you can’t live without Netflix, the cost won’t mean much. Their basic idea is this: let the internet service providers divide the internet into all the packages and speeds they want. If the price isn’t worth it to the consumer, the free market will handle the rest.
So, if no one is willing to pay $10 per month for YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu access, eventually internet service providers in need of funds will lower the cost to be more enticing or to compete with other providers.
Let’s not forget that ISPs are businesses too: they’re ultimately driven by revenue. If consumers aren’t paying their asking price, they’ll lower the prices to bring them back. If they’re too heavily regulated and can’t run a substantial profit, their incentive to invest in better technology plummets. The more profit, the better the technology.
Capitalists also argue that with current internet packages hovering around $50 per month, division into packages would allow basic internet users to pay less for their services, and those who have more internet needs, or wants, would have to pay for their use. If you need more, you pay more. If you need less, you pay less.
With no evidence that there is any threat to internet freedom if the government decides to take it’s hands out of the internet business, capitalists essentially see the government regulation like this: