Ah, the internet. What a wonderful place to learn new things, stay up-to-date on news stories, play games, shop online and binge-watch your favorite television shows.
But do you know why you get access to all of these services? It’s because of net neutrality — and there are a lot of people debating the net neutrality pros and cons, so it’s time to start paying attention.
Net neutrality has been a hot-button issue in recent years, with multiple attempts in place to repeal regulations that have been established for years.
These regulations make it easy to surf the internet equally — whether looking up a movie to watch or chatting with a friend over Skype. Net neutrality gives users access to an open internet.
We use the internet so much that we quite literally, can’t live without it.
Net neutrality is the reason we have such freedom and flexibility on the internet. It’s the reason we have access to a world of content that other countries don’t have access to.
Net neutrality keeps the internet equal, free and fair. There are those that are passionate about it and have been fighting to protect net neutrality for months now, just like there are public-interest groups fighting for the opposite.
But what really is net neutrality, and how does it really affect our society, and future, at large?
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea of internet regulation.
It’s the idea that service providers — big businesses like Comcast, Verizon and others — shouldn’t be able to discriminate against the content that it provides its users.
It’s also the idea that these same providers can’t charge more for certain pieces of content, nor should they make it harder for consumers to access certain pieces of content because it benefits these larger corporations. And they can't base their decisions on internet traffic.
It means that even if you use Netflix more than the average user - or if you use services like WhatsApp or other data messaging services more than others - your service provider can’t charge you more for these services than it charges you to surf the web on Google or another platform.
It also means that your providers can’t make it harder to access or make these services run slower.
Essentially, net neutrality means that service providers can’t discriminate or play with data based on user preferences.
The Net Neutrality Debate: What Does It Mean For The Future Of The Internet?
Under President Barack Obama, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came up with a set of regulations and a government policy that allowed for almost complete net neutrality.
It included regulations of certain illegal content, but other than that, the internet is free to access and use regardless of what service you are looking to play around with.
These net neutrality regulations went into effect in 2015 — but in December 2017, the new, Republican FCC passed an initial vote to repeal these regulations.
This has led to a lengthy debate on whether content should be restricted, and whether it should be up to service providers to decide what content is worth what, and how it should be accessed in the land of the free and home of modern capitalism.
Rolling back net neutrality regulations could have long-lasting impacts on individuals and businesses alike. And after the FCC vote in December, tensions were high.
On May 16, 2018, the Senate voted to reinstate net neutrality rules and overlook the FCC vote.
This vote still had to go through the House before the fight is over. And it was a battle, with the Trump administration backing the FCC decision, and the House possibly in favor of voting with the president.
Since the resolution stalled in the House, as explained on Investopedia, "it's effectively dead in the water, at least until 2021."
The latest event was in October 2019 when a federal appeals court upheld the vote to abolish net neutrality.
All of this assuages some of the growing fears because the future of our society is drastically dependent on the internet and the information we are able to gather and absorb through it.
Repealing these regulations could potentially have disastrous effects on individuals and small businesses long-term, even though rolling back these laws could have some idealistic pros when you first put it under a microscope.
But the internet remains free - and will remain free until the House brings this issue to a vote. Even then, though, the fight isn’t over. And is still a tight race.
So in what ways do net neutrality laws really affect us on a day-to-day basis?
The internet has been around for a few decades now, and it has always been free to an extent, with few regulations limiting use. If these regulations were to be repealed, what effects would it have on the general populous? What effects would it have on your business?
Net Neutrality Pros And Cons — A Quick Guide To The Net Neutrality Debate
Every debate has two sides and the net neutrality debate is no different.
There are those that believe these regulations are necessary for an open, honest and efficient market. But there are also those that would say these regulations do the opposite, restricting companies and forcing them to comply with governmental regulations that are ultimately hurting them in the long run.
Here’s a breakdown of the debate, with the pros and cons of net neutrality clearly laid out.
These regulations may affect how you do business and it’s important you understand what the future might bring if these regulations stay in place, or if they are reversed.
What are the pros and cons of net neutrality? Let's go through each of them.
Net Neutrality: The Pros
Pro #1: Equal Playing Field
Net neutrality regulations provide Internet Service Providers, or ISPs and other online businesses, brands and services with an equal and fair playing field. If this playing field is no longer equal, consumers will suffer.
All the power would be in the hands of ISPs and broadband providers that can say what online services and sites are accessible, which cost more and which aren’t allowed altogether for financial or political reasons.
Pro #2: Freedom Of Expression Protection
One of the biggest pros of net neutrality regulation is the argument that it promotes freedom of expression. Essentially, people can say or do whatever on the internet so long as it’s not illegal.
Similarly, brands can promote a biased opinion to their audiences without being discriminated against as long as it, again, doesn’t break any laws.
This, in some people’s minds, has led to fake news breakouts. But it also combats fake news because it gives people access to all lines of thought, not just that which fall in line with a given ISP’s political standing.
Pro #3: ISPs Can’t Block Content on A Whim
This falls in line with the previous point. These regulations keep ISPs from eliminating content that they don’t like or don't agree with. It also stops them from putting pressure on sites that use up more bandwidth because all sites have the equal right to exist.
ISP’s can’t be out for themselves, they can’t have their own agendas thanks to the regulations put in place by the 2015 net neutrality regulations.
Pro #4: Equal Opportunity For Innovation
While the internet is free, all businesses get an even start.
Whether you’re a startup or a Fortune 500 company, an equal internet means you get equal access to consumers, investors and services that could help boost your business, invest in your innovative ideas and make the world, including the internet, a better place.
This also increases competition, helps Industry 4.0 to expand and promotes a growth drive because all parties have to fight on the same footing.
Pro #5: ISPs Classified As Utility Providers
Utility providers are organizations that provide a necessary tool for survival. They're classified as common carriers. These regulations constitute ISPs as utility providers meaning they must be accessible by all people.
So essentially, these regulations leave the door open for the FCC to put greater impositions on these providers, forcing them to comply with pricing regulations and provider stipulations that would limit their reach and profit thanks to Title II.
This is also one of the reasons ISPs are so against regulation — they’re afraid the internet will become too essential and they’ll have to provide it to more people for lower costs.
Pro #6: No Arbitrary Rise In Prices
By keeping these regulations in place, ISPs can’t arbitrarily charge more for certain services or higher speeds.
With net neutrality laws, all content is created equal and can’t be discriminated against or throttled with higher fees to continue running the way they were meant to.
It also means these ISPs can’t charge consumers more based on the services they use the most just because these ISPs know consumers don’t want to lose them.
Pro #7: Criminal Activities Are Monitored
Right now, all criminal activity on the internet is illegal. You can’t buy or sell drugs. You can’t post illegal acts on the internet. You can’t solicit sex.
Of course, if you look hard enough you can find all of these things but right now, this content is regulated.
It isn’t easy to just stumble upon because it’s not supposed to be there — it’s supposed to be hidden. Removing these regulations could make it easier to get access to this content because it would no longer be illegal to post.
Pro #8: Fake News Can Be Eliminated
Ideally, deregulating the internet would mean that ISPs could pay more attention to the content they produce, thus weeding out all the false and inaccurate content that has led to the influx of fake news.
ISPs could control the sites that are provided, and eliminate those that have no factual basis. But the problem here is that they could also just choose to align with the opinions that they believe in.
Net Neutrality: The Cons
Con #1: Unwanted Data Mining
If there is no regulation, all of that data is up for grabs. This might be good for big companies and corporations that thrive on consumer data — behavioral data, search engine preferences and more.
But for average consumers, this can seem like a massive invasion of privacy and unwanted stealing of information.
Calls could be monitored, chats could be checked and file-sharing could be looked into. Actions and behaviors on the internet would become easier to obtain than ever before.
This is also bad news for companies who are paid to obtain this data, or who collect it with the consumer consent and sell it to other platforms or services because they will no longer be needed.
Con #2: Prioritization Of IoT Services And Technologies
Prioritizing IoT services and technologies will be possible by internet providers if these regulations are reversed.
This means that they could devote more time, money and resources to these innovative technologies that might do more good for society overall.
Think medical devices and other life-changing solutions — ISPs could streamline these services and the access afforded to them into fast lanes making them run faster and more efficiently.
Con #3: Increased Prices To Supplement Increased Service
This price increase might affect the users and online brands at first, but in the long run, it will lead to better performance and maximum efficiency.
It will also mean that consumers are getting the content they want when they want it without sifting through the stuff that they don’t. Paying more will help providers eliminate the stuff users don’t want in favor of the stuff they do even faster.
Con #4: Questionable Content Becomes More Prominent
Questionable content can thrive in an unregulated internet because of just that — it’s not regulated by the federal government.
Offensive, discriminatory, racist and obscene content will be easy to find, obtain and share because there will be no one making sure it’s not there.
ISPs can still regulate content, but if it comes down to a money issue then it is very likely that these providers will be able to buy their way in.
Con #5: Less Regulation Means More Opportunity For Growth
AT&T is a company that hasn’t taken a stand in this debate, but they do believe there should be rules set in place for the internet that do not come from the regulations set in place.
“In the very near future, technological advances like self-driving cars, remote surgery and augmented reality will demand even greater performance from the internet. Without predictable rules for how the internet works, it will be difficult to meet the demands of these new technological advances.”
In essence, there should be guidelines that say certain technologies, AI-backed data and brands looking to innovate should be granted better service than others so that they can achieve that growth.
Essentially, the same way these ISPs can block growth depending on their preferences, they can also open the doors for others to thrive.
Net Neutrality Laws: Who Is For Them And Who Is Against Them?
Now that you understand the pros and cons of net neutrality and what these regulations, and the repealing of them, it’s important to understand who is taking which side.
This will help you better understand the debate as a whole and help you form a more cohesive and comprehensive opinion for yourself.
Those in favor of a free market and open-source software and those in favor of small government intervention are immediately in favor of the repeal of net neutrality laws.
This is because they believe that the government should intervene in as little ways as possible with everyday functions. And as the internet has become something of daily use, they feel that is it up to businesses and states to decide what and how people use the internet.
There are obviously, of course, the ISPs who want to see deregulation. This puts the ball in their court and lets them decide what content gets dispersed, who gets to see it and for how much. This would make the internet a business, and the highest bidder would win.
Similarly, web development and software development businesses that have a large stake in online content would benefit because it would give them a heads up and a foot in the door.
They’d have some say and some power in getting their own content or opinions expressed for the right dollar amount.
Those in favor of net neutrality regulations — those against repealing these protections — are those brands that deal with high-bandwidth content — think Netflix and Hulu which require a lot to keep their sites up and running at maximum efficiency.
ISPs could charge them more and make their services run slower, thus cutting down their clientele.
There is also very little that most online businesses could gain — they would have their content regulated, their bandwidth monitored and their services scrutinized if they lost the protection these regulations afford.
Big government people are also in favor of this because they think the government should be involved more closely with the everyday goings-on of the American people.
And, as a whole, internet users are generally for net neutrality.
They don’t want the content they have access to, to shrink or become increasingly biased. They don’t want to lose access to services and they certainly don’t want to pay more for the ones that they love.
There are obviously two sides to this debate and those that are in favor of both sides. But your business needs to understand what these deregulations could mean, and whether or not the consequences are worth it.
The Future Of Net Neutrality And What It Means For Business
Net neutrality has played a huge role in opening up our internet to the American public. It has helped disperse information, dispel fake news and foster a community of forward-thinkers and excited participants — in the world of politics, technology and business.
The internet is where everyone starts their online search — in 2020, 284 million Americans used the internet. That number has grown, and the internet has become a necessary tool for success — socially, professionally and beyond.
There are many pros and cons of net neutrality — and net neutrality has always been a heated subject, but recently the FCC kicked it up a notch with their vote. And brands need to know how it’ll affect them.
They need to know how their services will shift, how the way they reach consumers will shift and how they interact with the general public will shift.
Here is a quick recap of net neutrality pros and cons:
- An equal playing field for all businesses
- Freedom of expression protection to all brands
- ISPs can’t block content on a whim
- There’s equal opportunity for innovation
- ISPs are classified as utility providers
- There’s no arbitrary rise in prices
- Criminal activities are monitored
- Fake news can be eliminated
- Unwanted data mining from big business
- Prioritization of IoT services and technologies
- Increased prices for specific sites and bandwidth necessities
- No more free internet access
- Questionable content becomes more prominent as it can be paid for
- Less regulation means more opportunity for growth, but only for some businesses
These are just a few of the pros and cons of net neutrality, but it’s obvious that if these regulations are repealed, businesses and individuals alike will definitely feel the effects for years to come.