Innovation, for who?
Since its creation, the internet revolutionized the way humans communicate, collaborate, and disseminate material. The internet is a telecommunications service, which means the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) treats it as a common carrier to provide equal services to those who use it. In spite of this, in 2017 the FCC voted to end network neutrality in the United States. Net neutrality is a principle, which says Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may not control the speed of Internet traffic or favor particular applications or websites over others. Companies who oppose net neutrality include Verizon, At&T, and Comcast, whereas Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and Twitter are some companies who support the policy (Trager 410). Since the 2017 repeal of net neutrality, there has been much debate over its importance.
Opponents of net neutrality argue the Internet did not have a problem before 2015 when the FCC voted to handle all internet traffic alike. An article by Cecilia Kang, a New York Times reporter wrote, “Mr. Pai, who was nominated as chairman by President Trump, has said that the rules are unnecessary and that the market forces would prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking or slowing sites” (Kang). Moreover, net neutrality gives the government more control over the internet instead of allowing the free market to make decisions, which would better serve the consumer.
However, proponents of net neutrality advocate for democratic communication to empower citizens to communicate freely and openly on the Internet. They believe net neutrality allows people to equally share their story without the need to pay an ISP to increase the scope of those who could see their message. Thus, activists can raise awareness or fight oppression, and politicians can continue to speak without worrying certain ISPs would block its consumers or slow their access to their content, which the ISP may disagree with. In addition to the degree of government regulation net neutrality offers, there are also contrasting viewpoints on net neutrality’s ability to advance societal innovation.
Those against net neutrality believes it dissuades ISPs from investing in their own services. According to FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, “One major company, for instance, reported that it put on hold a project to build out its out-of-home Wi-Fi network due to uncertainty about the FCC’s regulatory stance” (Pai, as cited in Kastrenakes). ISPs do not see a reason to advance their networks if they are restricted from profiting from companies who desire to utilize their innovative services. Consumers want more competition among their ISPs for “better, faster and cheaper internet,” which net neutrality stifles (Pai, as cited in Kastrenakes).
Conversely, supporters of net neutrality believe it offers a level playing field for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and independent media sources to roll out their products and reach their customers. For instance in 2005, then-startup video sharing website YouTube competed against Google Video. Due to the absence of fast lanes, “Internet Service Providers treated YouTube’s videos the same as they did Google’s, and Google couldn’t pay the ISPs to gain an unfair advantage” (Wyden et al.). Consequently, proponents of net neutrality believe businesses will succeed due to the quality of their content rather than their ability to strike a deal with ISPs. In either case, those for and against net neutrality agree it may hinder innovation.
Today, humans use online tools to engage in e-commerce, information gathering activities, and community functions. While some favor net neutrality because it preserves the equal access to all applications, others oppose it because it may hinder competition and innovation. The argument over the importance of this principle continues as many states and advocacy groups challenged the FCC on their decision in court.