Open Internet or net neutrality is the principle of treating internet connections equally. The net neutrality regulation was implemented in place during the Obama administration in 2015. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially scrapped the net neutrality regulations by the end of 2017. With this, the ISPs can sell their users’ bandwidth without their permission. In 2015, the FCC chaired by Tom Wheeler enacted the regulation to enforce net neutrality by re-categorizing broadband from Title I service to Title II service. This implies that the broadband service was considered as a telecommunications service. Hence, it was subjected to the same common carrier protections similar to utilities that were prevented from interfering with the delivery of the service. With the new regulations, these protections are now removed and broadband returned to its original designation. The FCC argued that net neutrality slowed down innovation and impacted internet service providers. Without net neutrality, ISPs discriminate against websites or services and control what users can see. ISPs that are not classified. The counter-argument by those who are against this claims that the ISPs will offer greater bandwidths to companies that can afford to pay more or they will hide premium content.
Revoking net neutrality impacts both ISPs and users. From a user perspective, net neutrality in place guarantees that all connections are equally treated without any censoring. On the other hand from ISP’s angle, the government will have control over how they do their business, which in turn prevents them from gaining the additional income for infrastructure improvement.
Net neutrality implies equal internet provisions for all users. ISPs don't have much voice on how customers access the internet. Without net neutrality, they can regulate the websites or services of small businesses and how their content is being delivered to their customers. The companies that can’t afford to pay the amount for fast-track services wouldn’t be able to control the way their data is delivered to users. ISPs can block access or alter the data flow through their systems.
With no net neutrality in place, ISPs can block the content or slow down web pages based on their discretion. Content that can legally operate is available online due to net neutrality. Illegal content needs to be immediately reported. The absence of net neutrality can make illegal content more prevalent.
Net neutrality ensures everything on the internet is available to everyone irrespective of any discrimination. Without net neutrality, high-quality content becomes affordable to people who can pay. This will result in exclusion in society.
ISPs can charge companies for enhanced services like faster video streaming and online games without net neutrality. The cost of these services will be cascaded to their customers.
Public utilities are daily essentials in our lives. Now the internet is inevitable in modern life. Utilities are provided to everyone until they decline to pay for using them. This does not depend on their financial status. But without net neutrality, internet services will be delivered based on the financial affordability of the user.
With net neutrality, users pay only for the service, but not for the data they use. There are legal and illegal streaming sites and users who engage in real-time video calls for a long duration. All these services are being used for free on the infrastructure of the ISPs. Home entertainment streaming, music streaming, and online gaming had gained momentum in the past decade. This has dropped the bandwidth availability. Customers who use less bandwidth may also have to pay for the infrastructure needed to support high-bandwidth activities.
Offensive and illegal content are easily accessible to everyone because of net neutrality. This includes content related to personal and religious beliefs, graphic videos, or other unsuitable content. Although modern sophisticated technology allows people to block such content, net neutrality could filter out before it reaches the customer.
Without net neutrality, ISPs can charge the amount they want and restrict access based on their discretion. This makes free internet not reachable for those who cannot afford, eventually leading to demographic and socioeconomic discrimination. ISPs would prefer to provide fast streaming to those who prefer to pay more.
For instance, if an ISP provides media streaming services too, then they can choose to provide maximum internet speed to the media streaming services it owns. Other streaming services will be given less priority. This will make a customer go for services available at high speed, limiting their choice.
When ISPs are not allowed to charge for more of their services, this gets reflected in their investment on infrastructure. With net neutrality, huge amounts of data will be consumed without being paid.
Net neutrality became a buzz word in the US after the appointment of Ajit Pai as the Chairman of the FCC. He revoked the 2015 net neutrality rules. The debate on net neutrality and the voice for reinstating the rule continues. The year 2019 proved to be a successful year for those who stand for net neutrality. It marked the victory of pro-net neutrality consumer groups from the Columbia District and the attorney generals of 22 states in the US who sued the FCC’s move to reverse the rules in the court. This implied that the future leadership of FCC will be allowed to classify ISPs as common carriers. Rather they won’t be able to dispute this as the rules were issued by individual states. This intricates the future of net neutrality.
ISPs primarily throttle your internet connection based on your online behavior. You can leverage on a VPN to avoid bandwidth throttling and content blocking. A VPN service routes your internet traffic through an encrypted VPN tunnel. When connected to a VPN server, it masks the original IP address to the ISPs. This conceals your IP address from ISPs and thus they couldn’t track the online activities and throttle your connection or interfere in any way. However, your ISP will still know it is you, and you are connected to the VPN.
Net neutrality is essential to keep the internet free and open to all. The debate over net neutrality is who should control what information flows across the internet. On the one hand, with net neutrality, people can enjoy free internet. On the other, this enables ISPs to cap a person’s internet usage or charge huge amounts that make the internet accessible to only a few privileged classes.