The issue of Net Neutrality has some very high profile aspects to it, but it also has some seemingly purposefully hidden aspects to it as well. Its demise will have far-reaching negative effects for some, while having equally far-reaching, but favorable effects for others.
The average citizen tends to become overwhelmed by the technical arguments while the less gleaming issues, but those of great and equal importance, seem to have proponents who pointedly obscure simple matters with purposeful ‘techno speak’. Most average internet users just want fast, uninterrupted service that is not censored and inexpensive. That is essentially the crux of the Net Neutrality argument. There we have it removing Net Neutrality sets in motion a myriad of problems that will end up in the long and the short runs, costing middle- and lower-class users, more money for fewer services and diminished access. The Internet Society’s Policy Brief itself states “Discussions about net neutrality, for example, often touch on concerns about freedom of expression, competition of service and user choice, impact on innovation, nondiscriminatory traffic management practices, pricing, and overall business models” (2015, P.1).
Most people who have ever used competitive services like TV companies, radio services, and Internet providers have enjoyed having several choices of companies who compete with one another, because competition keeps, prices low and choices high. When providers know that consumers can change their preferences freely and often if driven to, due to better services and lower prices, companies will work harder to give premier service, and do whatever it takes to maintain loyal customer bases. Also, with respect to the issue of innovation, small and new companies with good ideas can challenge bigger and longer established companies for customers interested in novel approaches to existing services. Thus, it does not take a technically savvy individual to understand the day-to-day impact of what Net Neutrality globally offers to average users.
Looking at what Net Neutrality offered before it was dissected gives the casual observer a point of reference on which to make well informed decisions. On February 8, 2004, then FCC Chairman Michael Powell elucidated four principles on Internet Freedom. They were: 1) the Freedom to Access Content, 2) the Freedom to Use Applications, 3) The Freedom to Attach Personal Devices, and 4) The Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information (Friedlander, 2016). Again, average citizens only want to enjoy the four freedoms usually without having to know the mechanics of how they work, but the first three freedoms are fairly transparent and easy to understand. The fourth freedom is the one that will end up costing average users more money for fewer choices and diminished access.
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Very few people can explain all or any of the nuances of their internet service providers (ISPs) aside from their names and the prices they charge. What is really at issue is what these ‘gatekeepers’ stand to gain not in the short term (months to years), but in the long term (decades and longer), and who is funding them and why. ISPs like Comcast and Verizon are referred to as ‘gatekeepers’ because they can control who manages networks providing access to applications, content, platforms, and websites. If Internet giants like those mentioned and others are allowed to block access to certain content for political and anti-competitive or censorship reasons, small, new, and technically challenged companies might be eclipsed from doing profitable business.
The key and underrated danger is never knowing who the gatekeepers really are, which since it would take a great deal of both startup and continuing capital to own and operate such enterprises, might very well be the 1% of wealth owners. Once in place behind large gatekeepers, these wealth owners could then freely raise prices to supra competitive levels, essentially establishing and promoting ISP monopolies. Thus, the 1% would be getting quietly wealthier (which no one outside the 1% appears to really desire) at the targeted expense of the middle and lower classes.
The Anti Net Neutrality camp often speak of higher costs for companies without explaining what those phantom higher costs might be, they favor opacity of provider actions, and they champion unknown limited services which they refuse to spell out up front.
Not to get too far afield, but those arguments sound suspiciously akin to the tax scam bill recently pushed through by a Republican controlled congress, whose strongest proponent was Mitch McConnell. McConnell very oddly didn’t want citizens to read the bill until it was passed. This tax bill is widely seen to be at the expense of the middle and lower classes while at the same time giving lucrative tax breaks to the extremely wealthy. Coincidentally, the demise of Net Neutrality is a carbon copy effort, which imposes on middle- and lower-class internet users especially, a set of internet rules that favor big companies who will be able to charge whatever prices they choose, while limiting whatever access they deem necessary.
December 2017 Internet headlines showed Apple was facing multiple lawsuits after being accused of slowing down iPhones. A 2012 Huff Post blog accused Verizon of seeking a monopoly that would kill jobs. A February 2014 Yahoo Finance blog post revealed that a Comcast and Time Warner merger would effectively create a monopoly among cable providers. Thus, the threat of what the fall of New Neutrality could become already has its groundwork laid out. Common Internet users just have to put two and two together and use what they know, and what has happened in the past to predict the future. After all, that is exactly what the big companies are doing; predicting (and comfortably pre-placing their assets) for a profitable future, but in doing so, many internet users will find at some point that their fewer plethora of choices have been quietly curtailed or eliminated.
It was the Republican led effort that overturned the short-lived Net Neutrality that was implemented in 2015, but since the recent repeal, the attorney generals of more than 20 states individually and collectively has challenged the repeal in lawsuits. Trump appointee Ajit Pai, head of the FCC, was not a hard sell in repealing Net Neutrality, some say due in part to him having served as Associate General Counsel for Verizon Communications, one of the companies that stands to gain considerable control and oversight as a gatekeeper company since the repeal of Net Neutrality. Whatever chess maneuvers the top 1% of wealth owners may be orchestrating in the upper echelons of regulatory initiatives, the one thing that remains inescapable, is that the lower and middle classes stand to gain far less than the wealthy.
Tim Smith is an Adjunct Professor of the Physical Sciences at area colleges teaching classes like Astronomy, Geology, Oceanography, and Physics. He is a prolific writer of novels, screenplays, short stories, essays, poetry, and re-conditioned classic Fairy Tales written from African-American, Hispanic-American, and Native American perspectives. He paints with acrylics, enjoys swimming and jogging, and dabbles in amateur film-making.