The World Wide Web has emerged as an increasingly large and open network of creativity, connectivity, and free speech. This has led to a conflict between those who provide internet broadband services with those who provide content. The content providers wish to keep their ideas and creations freely open and available to others regardless of income or residence and without restrictions dictated by the Internet Service Providers.
Net neutrality prevents broadband Internet Service Providers from charging content providers for paid prioritization in delivering data to consumers and possibly creating an unfair marketplace between large and smaller content providers. Enforcing net neutrality would prevent internet broadband providers from discriminating, blocking, and possibly censoring legal content an individual is allowed to get access to online. Instead, Internet Service Providers would have to treat all internet traffic equally and unrestricted which allows for truly free speech.
Finally, net neutrality would be beneficial for the individual consumer as they would be able to get access to everything they want online without preference based on economic standing which ensures internet access equality. In this paper, we will see why Net Neutrality should be preserved to allow for fair marketplace competition, to ensure internet access equality, and to protect against possible censorship.
The concept of an open communications network actually goes back over one hundred years ago when telegraph lines were first being installed. The open network was established with the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860 that determined that any communication being passed through the telegraph lines from any individual or company would be “impartially transmitted in the order of reception.”
As further technologies grew, The United States Congress passed into law The Communications Act of 1934 which created the Federal Communications Commission as the agency responsible for regulating communications channels within the United States. Title II of The Communications Act of 1934 also extended the concept of an open network by introducing and defining that a common carrier would not be allowed to discriminate by any means or unreasonable prejudice.
The term common carrier would be further defined 62 years later with the passing of The Telecommunications Act of 1996 which was enacted to provide competition, lower prices, and encourage rapid deployment of new technologies. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 also further clarified the differences between communication carriers. Basic services which simply transmitted information were designated “telecommunication carriers” or Title II carriers. Enhanced services that offered interactive features were classified as “information service providers” or Title I providers. Thus establishing a clear separation of carriers and providers. The key factor being that telecommunication carriers were still held to the Title II requirements from the Communications Act of 1934 that enforced common carrier provisions of an open network.
Clear rules were now in place that allowed for an open internet. However, in 2002 the cable industry argued that it not only transmitted data to consumers, but it also provided services such as e-mail and web pages. And since they were both a telecommunication carrier and an information service provider they should only be classified as one or the other. The Federal Communications Commission agreed with this argument and ruled that the cable modem service provided by the cable companies were in fact an information service and therefore not subject to the common carrier regulations of Title II of The Communications Act of 1934.
This allowed at first the cable providers and then other broadband providers the ability to block legal content and to prioritize traffic as the providers deemed necessary. Since the March 2002 ruling the Federal Communications Commission has been trying to put the genie back in the bottle with little success. On December 23, 2010 the Federal Communications Commission released a compliance guide that introduced three rules that would provide protection for consumers.
- Transparency – All service provider policies must be openly disclosed.
- No Blocking – No legal content may be blocked by the providers.
- No Unreasonable Discrimination – Traffic may not be favored over other traffic.
Even though broadband Internet Service Providers would still be considered as information services and not subject to common carrier regulations, the new Open Internet rules effectively barred providers from blocking, slowing, or prioritizing traffic. In July 2012, Verizon appealed these orders stating that as a Title I information service the Title II common carrier rules should not apply. And on January 14, 2014 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with Verizon striking down both the No Blocking and No Discrimination clauses while upholding the Transparency clause of the Open Internet order. Not because the court disagreed with the need to preserve net neutrality, but because it believed that the wrong legal approach had been taken.
On May 15, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to resolve the legal authority of the No Blocking and No Discrimination clauses by referencing section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Title II of The Communications Act of 1934 in an attempt to once again ensure an open and neutral network. On November 10, 2014, President Barack Obama released a Press Statement supporting the need of the Federal Communications Commission “to answer the call of almost four million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.“
Within the free marketplace of communication networks prior to 2002, the founders of both the Internet and World Wide Web had the ability to create and innovate the roots of an open network. The creator of the first web browser, Sir Tim Berners-Lee even specified that his technology would “be available to all, without paying royalties, forever.” This allowed anyone with a web browser and an idea the ability to create, innovate, and share their own ideas. In testimony to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the creator of the TCP/IP protocol Vincent G. Cerf stated, “removal of longstanding nondiscrimination FCC safeguards provided broadband carriers with significant and unconstrained market control over Internet Access.”
If broadband service providers are allowed to discriminate between whether to deliver data or not based on paid prioritization, smaller companies or individuals will not be able to compete with existing and larger corporations. Net Neutrality allows for an even playing field of opportunity between individual startups or long standing companies to equally and effectively reach their prospective customers without, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stated, “the prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers.”
Equal access is also provided by the guidelines of No Blocking and No Discrimination that would be enforced with net neutrality and would leave the level of internet service availability in the hands of the individual consumers and not that of the broadband service provider. Without net neutrality users would only have access to the websites that their service provider wanted to provide or promote. Studies have shown that in conjunction with geographic monopolies that increase prices of broadband services, increasing income inequality within the United States have divided the social, political, and academic arenas into separate income groups. Net Neutrality is one way of taking positive steps to ensure that all of the web is available to all of the people all the time.
Censorship is also an area of concern. In many countries like Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea web content such as WordPress blogs, Wikipedia articles, and YouTube videos have been blocked. In Vietnam it is illegal to distribute content that may be objectionable by the government. But could that type of repression and censorship happen in the United States? Even though providers have been subject to open networking principles and guidelines for over a dozen years, applications and content being blocked have already occurred. The FCC’s Open Internet Order of December 2010 was in direct response to Comcast restricting and blocking access to peer-to-peer traffic, specifically Bit Torrent sessions of their customers. Additionally, the 2014 Verizon v. FCC ruling found that access to Netflix had been reduced or dropped on Verizon networks. These are just two examples demonstrating that without the No Blocking and No Discrimination net neutrality guidelines, service providers would be able to block and discriminate against content providers as they deemed suitable to their own business needs. Thus censoring what was available to consumers who had already paid for access to the entire Internet.
Ever since the beginning of the Internet and World Wide Web the founders have not only requested that the infrastructure be free and open, it has been built into the architecture by design. Any person, in any country, on any device can contribute to the world wide explosion of creativity, concepts, and ideas. The Internet has changed governments, allowed people to go back to college, and made it possible for a small business to compete in a global marketplace. This would not be possible without the fundamental guidelines of net neutrality that protect competition, equality, and free speech which is the very fabric of the spirit of the United States.
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