Since its inception, the Internet has always been a place of freedom and opportunity. It continues to be a launch pad for businesses, artists, bloggers and educators. It houses billions of social media profiles and the domain of countless advertising agencies and is quickly becoming the definitive source of information in the world. Above all, it has always been a hub for creativity, innovation, connection and freedom of expression.
The Internet has been able to serve as a place of freedom and opportunity because of a previously established set of policies created by the Federal Communications Commission referred to as “net neutrality.” Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should treat all transmission of data equally, regardless of the user, content, site, platform or mode of communication. However, this notion has been under debate for a long time and after the District of Columbia Circuit Court’s Jan. 14 ruling that the FCC has no authority to enforce net neutrality rules, we may see the end of it altogether.
Net neutrality is in direct opposition to Internet service providers that would attempt to charge customers according to a tiered rate system. The system would charge according to variables such as how much and what type of data the customer uses. Internet service providers should be able to charge customers that use a huge amount of bandwidth, like Netflix, at a higher rate compared to a small startup that only uses the Internet to maintain a website or a blogger that uses the Internet to attract readers and marketers. However, the controversy lies in the fact that without net neutrality, Internet service providers could purposely slow down or altogether restrict access to Internet use, thus having the ability to censor everything we see while surfing the Web.
Without net neutrality, the Internet as we know it could easily sink into a realm similar to that of cable television, in which everything seen depends on what the cable companies choose to broadcast, which of course is determined by which media company offer the most money. The problem is that almost all of the Internet giants we take for granted today; Google, Amazon and Facebook to name a few, started as little projects with even less capital. It was the freedom and accessibility of the Internet that allowed these ambitious ideas to become successful corporations. Without net neutrality, the Internet could become a strutting grounds for the rich and powerful, while consequently leaving out the others who didn’t make the cut, stifling innovation.
Allowing Internet service providers to charge customers through a tiered rate system does have its merits, though. When an Internet service provider is forced to charge every customer equally regardless of how much bandwidth the customer uses, it also suffers a significant depletion of resources. In turn, no compensation is given when customers need an extreme amount of bandwidth in order to run their sites or applications at the fastest speed possible. Extra money that Internet service providers could make if net neutrality were to become a thing of the past could be used to create more sophisticated and far reaching infrastructure that would bring the Internet to more places while also making it more accessible to those that already have it. However, it’s entirely possible the extra money could also be spent on executive bonuses, hedonistic vacations, and a few more helicopters per CEO instead.
The end of net neutrality could trigger a massive transformation of the Internet into a place of censorship and status. We must ensure that the Internet remain a playground for imagination, a bridge between people that allows us to connect and collaborate in ways that would not be possible without it. The Internet must remain a hub for human expression, a place where any individual can have just as much of an impact as the world’s largest media conglomerates. It was created with the vision that anyone could share anything on a network that would always be growing larger and more connected. The Internet is supposed to be a network of people and information that allows anyone’s voice to be heard. If we are not careful, it could become just another source of mindless advertising and propaganda. The population of the world continues to rise and each year more people are connecting to the Internet and the freedom and opportunity it creates. We are living in the “Information Age,” and it is our responsibility to ensure that information always remains open and accessible to all.