As web-oriented culture in America continues to grow, people have become more and more dependent on the Internet to promote their products and businesses. The Internet has always been a great, free tool available to everyone. However, the rules governing the Internet are changing. The recent storm of controversy over the FCC’s decision to repeal Net Neutrality has led to abounding rumors, and at this point, it’s hard to separate myth from reality. It seems everyone is panicking that the free Internet as we know it will be lost, but this is simply not the case. Net Neutrality is certainly a big deal, but its repeal is not nearly as catastrophic as people are making it out to be.
"There's no for-sure chance that the repeal will go into effect."
Net Neutrality can be confusing, especially with all the misconceptions out there, so let’s start with some basic background information. In February of 2015, under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in favor of a Net Neutrality law. The FCC is a government agency that controls communication across state lines, including radio, television, internet, satellite, and cable.The Net Neutrality law required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to provide equal access to all lawful information on the Internet to everyone in the United States. This prohibited them from barring or choking access to specific sites or services. It also prevented paid prioritization, where consumers and companies could pay more to have faster access to internet services.
On December 14 of 2017, FCC voted to repeal Net Neutrality. It was a 3-2 vote, with the three Republicans voting for the repeal and two Democrats voting against it. But there’s no for-sure chance that the repeal will go into effect. It’ll first be challenged by appeals courts, which will take an indefinite amount of time. In court, the entire repeal or just parts of it could be struck down. It’s also possible that Congress will pass a joint resolution overturning the repeal. However, this is unlikely, as the majority of Congress is controlled by Republicans. In short, if the repeal does go into effect, it won’t happen soon.
If and when Net Neutrality is officially repealed, it could very well change the Internet as we know it. ISPs will be able to instigate paid priority, where companies who pay more can have their online material accessed faster while non-paying companies are put in the “slow lane”. While ISPs are still not allowed to block any content that is considered lawful, they could flat out make consumers pay extra to access their competition, or just discourage their competitors or companies they don’t like by slowing down internet access to their sites. This has a devastating effect on small businesses who can’t afford to pay to have their material accessed quickly online. This only lets big corporations become bigger and stamps out small businesses and new innovations.
The goal of repealing Net Neutrality is to stop the government from having so much control over the Internet and hand that control over to the free market. This is obviously not a bad goal. The backbone of our country is the free market. Allowing the government to have too much control over the Internet could potentially be more catastrophic than having no control. The idea is that if a consumer does not like their ISP provider, they can switch to a less restrictive or less expensive provider. This forces ISPs to limit costs and restrictions in order to attract customers. However, the free market is based on competition, and that only works when competition is available. Since there aren’t many ISPs out there, there isn’t very much competition, which could easily lead to the creation of monopolies. Most people don’t have access to a wide variety of ISP providers, so they have to go along with their ISP’s rules if they want Internet.
Net Neutrality is a very controversial topic that could very well impact our world. However, consumers should not spend too much time worrying about it. The appeal process will continue for a long time, and there is a real possibility that the repeal will be partially or fully rejected in court. Congress could still overturn the appeal. Even if it does eventually go into effect, consumers might just have to pay a little extra for higher-speed Internet. There still is no blocking online material, and the worst that can happen is that certain parts of the Internet are slower. Most ISPs aren’t going to drastically change anything because they want to keep their customers. While net neutrality definitely could have a negative impact on small businesses and consumers, it is not as cataclysmic as it is made out to be.
Cover photo: Keyboard, by Sarah Katcher