If there’s one thing the Internet loves, it’s hoopla. Make that hoopla about the Internet itself, and it feels like the net might explode.
Our social issue of this issue is net neutrality. Right now, access to the Internet follows public standards that are the same for just about everyone. The Federal Communications Commission, a government agency that regulates communications including the Internet, calls this the “open Internet.”
So, the hoopla: Big phone and cable companies that provide Internet are pushing to loosen the regulations on net neutrality. They want to have more control over their broadband connections; specifically,
companies such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable are looking to create tiers of Internet service that would force content companies (basically anyone who creates content for the Web, like Netflix, and media sites such as BuzzFeed) to pay for access to higher speed Internet connections. Those who won’t be able to afford the cost of this higher tier of Inter- net service would be relegated to using a slower connection speed.
In May, the FCC asked for public input on how to best protect Internet freedom. Commentary closed Sept. 15, and in those five months, the FCC received more than 3.7 million comments from the public regarding Internet regulation. The Sunlight Foundation analyzed the first 800,000 of those comments and found that about two-thirds of commenters opposed the use of paid Internet fast lanes.
Voices in favor of the enforcement of net neutrality are overwhelmingly louder than the voices of those in favor of less regulation. Content providers such as Netflix and Tumblr displayed banners on their websites drawing attention to the issue and asking site visitors to contribute their comments to the FCC, as well as bring the issue forward to government representatives. Media providers such as National Public Radio have also gotten involved, writing about how ending net neutrality will effectively shut down many of their free, public services.
A less-regulated Internet would cause a chain reaction that would force Netflix and other subscription-based services to pay Internet services providers for higher broadband and in turn raise subscription fees to cover that cost.
The knee-jerk reaction is to cry: “No! I don’t want to pay more for my Internet! Everything should be free!” But reality is much more complex.
The federal government doesn’t own the Internet (technically, no one does), but allowing the FCC to create and enforce stricter regulations on how the Internet can be used is a step in that direction.
The alternative, though, is giving that regulating power to the largest phone and cable companies that provide Internet service.
It’s impossible to say for sure what’s better, because Internet users are powerless either way.