With the FCC considering to roll back net neutrality regulations, the issue has become prominent in the public debate. And as per usual, among the arguments there is also a lot of misinformation.
Let’s begin with what net neutrality is. It is a principle according to which, on the internet, all data is equal. What this means is that Internet service providers cannot discriminate by enhancing service for favored content or blocking, slowing down or charging unfavored content.
What some people get wrong is that they believe that repealing net neutrality will hit Internet monopolies such as Google and Facebook. But if anyone can pay their way to ensure preferential, it’s well-established tech titans. As much as they’ve struggled to get to where they are today, it will become all the worse for startups to break through.
Another argument is that what net neutrality provides can be taken care of by the good old market forces: if an ISP shows preferential treatment, or provides bad to no access to specific content, the consumer will simply choose another. However, in the U.S. not everyone has actual choice. Sure, this might become an incentive for more ISPs launch, but that would take time and money, given the current infrastructure, which brings us to the next point.
Some argue that what the regulation does not address is the greater problem of lack of speed. But this is not a neutrality issue – more than anything else, it is an infrastructure issue. In the Old World, we tend to have greater Internet speeds, and it’s not because our data service is not equal. It’s because we live in big, crowded cities, where most everyone is connected online, which makes it easier for the ISPs to build actual, physical infrastructure. And preserve it and upgrade it.
If net neutrality is revoked, the risk is that the Internet will become like any other media. With the Internet as it is today, we have countless voices with equally countless views, offering a variety of insights, arguments and perceptions. Not all these views hold value, but they stir up the argument in a way the mainstream media never could, putting every one of us in the place of the broadcaster and, hopefully, inviting a culture of questioning and rational thinking. In any case, it provided anyone a world-wide soapbox to express their opinion. Without net neutrality, these voices will lose their volume – they will not be completely silenced, but they will be overpowered by those with bigger boxes.
If anything, the Internet is the quintessential American Dream – it’s the place where, in this era, anyone can make it with an idea and a bit of hard work. You can voice your opinions, you can show off your talents, you can launch a product. If you are good, if you are convincing, if you are good-looking, or whatever other merit you might have that the public cherishes, you will make it. But for this to work, everyone must get an equal chance. The internet is the playing field of the underdog. Without net neutrality, it will become just another platform for the insiders.