The end of net neutrality is the end of the Internet as we know it, and the most disconcerting part of the net neutrality issue is that most people don’t understand how it actually affects us, or what the term even means.
Net neutrality is the concept that all content on the Internet, no matter the source, is equal. From a blog post to a press release from the White House, every page has the ability to reach the same amount of people. YouTube is a great example of this concept; thousands of ordinary people have reached millions through their videos at no cost. Their videos spread just as effectively as a multi-million-dollar movie or commercial.
That’s the beauty of the Internet; it’s an even playing field. However, the concept of net neutrality has recently been under attack. In January, the federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Federal Communication Commission had used a questionable legal frame to establish the “Open Internet Order” and therefore it could not be enforced. Unfortunately, this was the only law protecting the Internet’s content.
Then on May 15, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed rules for the Internet that would allow Internet service providers like Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon to actively block and discriminate against content. The horrifying part of that is that means these large corporations can control what you have access to, legally.
For instance, Comcast could make a streaming service and then slow your connection to Netflix, forcing you to use their option for your binge-watching needs. Or even worse, imagine being forced to watch an advertisement before being able to view your favorite sites or having to purchase the “Ultimate Sports Deal” just to visit any website Comcast deems sports-related. The scariest of these options, however, is that without net neutrality, your ISP could legally block access to any website and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.
You may think, “my beloved Comcast would never do such a thing!” But they already have. In late 2013, Netflix and Comcast entered into negotiations about the former’s streaming speeds for Comcast’s customers. Netflix entered discussions, adamant that it did not intend to unfairly increase their payment for the sole reason of its popularity. However, during the months of negotiations, Comcast throttled the speeds of Netflix’s services, slowing the streams by over 20 percent, causing thousands more customer complaints and cancellations for the streaming giant. In the end, Netflix conceded and paid Comcast. Days after the deal was reached, Netflix’s stream speed rose over 40 percent, which is a fact that Comcast denies was related to the negotiations.
Although the end of net neutrality seems like it could cause huge problems for the Internet as we know it, the issues it could spawn could potentially be life-threatening and have a massive impact on the real world. In nations like China, the simple ability to Google something is illegal and the anything critical to the government is silenced. In America, censorship on that level is certain to lead to political strife and social discord. As a thought experiment, imagine if Comcast or another ISP started shutting down websites that were in political disagreement with the company’s views. A potential cyber war would then ensue, likely flamed by hacktivist groups like Anonymous, causing the Internet to become a battlefield of service disruptions and malware. It could increasingly lead to hacktivist groups trying to retake the net by force, or counter-attacking the companies responsible.
Increasingly, this also allows for a larger argument of content and control. What’s to stop ISPs from choosing what Americans “need to know” or what’s “good for them”? The Internet has always had one thing going for it: it embodies the spirit of America. There’s no limit to who can contribute, to what ideas get traction or to who can say what. What you choose to do and say on the Internet is exclusively your right. And no one should dictate otherwise.