For over a decade, net neutrality has been a topic of heated discussion in the technology world. Put plainly, net neutrality means that everybody can access the same Internet in the same way, regardless of one’s Internet Service Provider or what they are accessing. Today, Comcast doesn’t really care if a user is accessing a U.S. government site, reading anarchist literature, gaming, watching YouTube or farting around Facebook. Losing net neutrality would mean that service providers would be able to change what can be accessed and how on the Internet.
One of the single most distinctive and important aspects of the Internet is how anybody can do anything on it, even a punk kid living in his mother’s basement eating Hot Pockets can make millions with the right idea. What makes the Internet such an incredible force in today’s world is how accessible it is to anybody of any status. The homeless and destitute can get online at locations all over the place and be equal to everybody else – write essays that are instantly available worldwide, watch lectures on any subject under the sun or play chess against the best of the best. The Internet is a great equalizing factor and the benefit it has provided to humanity will probably never be fully appreciated. On April 23, the FCC announced that it would put forth new rules to let companies pay ISPs for faster data rates, what has been described as a “fast lane” for the Internet. What this means is the richest corporations in the country can make their content more easily
accessed and the Internet ceases to be an equalizer and becomes yet another facet of our corporatist economy. The raw amount of competition on the Internet is amazing. The number of social networks, games, video streaming sites and news outlets are astronomical, and the only way one succeeds is by being a better product.
The end of net neutrality changes everything. When a small business has an idea and Google has an idea, Google has the millions to pay ISPs to make its idea work faster while the small business is considering which brand of instant ramen is cheaper. The Internet is an amazing source of alternative news media. Every day, stories not seen on TV are shared to millions of Americans, things for whatever reason not covered by the major networks. The new FCC rules will allow the major networks to make their sites run faster, gaining more viewers, increasing ad revenue and outcompeting alternative media outlets. Small businesses already have a hard enough time surviving and competing in the economy we have now, with millions of pages of regulations, a skyrocketing minimum wage and millions of dollars of subsidies going to politically-connected corporations. The principle that all content on the Internet was equal gave everybody equal footing and equal opportunity and that era appears to be at an end. Is it just a coincidence that the current head of the FCC, Thomas Wheeler, worked as a lobbyist for cable companies and has been inducted into the Cable Television Hall of Fame? This also gives our government the ability to hinder access to materials it doesn’t agree with, and with its track record, how can it be trusted?