When I am writing this blog, thousands of companies, organizations and individuals are observing the “Internet Slowdown Day”, demanding for a free and unbiased internet for all. Companies and organizations from different sectors have joined forces to fight against the discriminatory policy of the giant ISPs. This movement is claiming that giant cable companies (Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable & AT&T) are charging more money for their poor service. Several rank as the most hated companies in America. They are also consolidating their utmost control over the Internet. These big ISP are accused of charging higher mandatory fees to the small and medium enterprises without any added services. If anybody doesn’t pay that fees, Internet speed is slowed down, which makes the Internet “dead” for them.
But the very first question that pops up in the mind of a common person, what actually net neutrality is. Net neutrality (aka network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is defined as the standard that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally. Internet service providers cannot discriminate or charge differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. Domain registry company “Namecheap” stated, “Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data equally.” The term was initially proposed by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu in 2003. Advocates consider net neutrality as an important component of an open Internet, where policies such as equal treatment of data and open web standards allow those on the Internet to easily communicate and conduct business without interference from a third party. However, a “closed Internet” refers to the opposite situation, in which established corporations or governments favor certain uses. A closed Internet may have restricted access to necessary web standards, artificially degrade some services, or explicitly filter out content.
In the USA, net neutrality has been a very hot debated issue from early 2000. Cable companies are allegedly monopolizing the internet market and often blocking common services to the users at their own discretion. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is working on a new plan by which service providers will be able to charge more money for better and specialized service. But the interesting fact is that there is no legal restrictions on how access providers should give service to the users. There is also no rules regarding intentionally limiting or blocking Internet speed or content. But this is not only a legal issue anymore. It has become a concern whether free and open internet is a basic human right. Even president Obama also opposed the new rules that will make the giant companies benefited. Recently, president Obama said in a speech that big and wealthy companies may be willing to paying higher amount for faster Internet but small companies won’t. The president also said that an open Internet will allow for “the next Google or the next Facebook” to enter the industry, and become successful. Industry pioneers also showed their concerns over the issue. Inventor of the Internet Vint Cerf commented that “Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success…A number of justifications have been created to support carrier control over consumer choices online; none stand up to scrutiny.” Father of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee also said, “The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true. Let us protect the neutrality of the net.”
FCC got a major shock when they lost a lawsuit over the net neutrality issue. FCC had regulated the ISPs from contents based on discrimination. But Verizon challenged the policy and received a court ruling in favor of them that voided FCC’s policy. Since then, FCC has been criticized for its soft attitude toward the major service providers and being nonreactive toward public rights. Nevertheless, FCC had opened an inbox to receive comments on the issue, which they will use to revise their proposed plan. Till date, FCC has received more than 780,000 comments on that topic. The debate remains on the table as the victims of Internet monopoly have institutionalized their movement to a new level. They have launched massive campaign claiming that general mass are deprived of their rights due to the monopolistic attitude of the big brothers of the industry. The activist group declared 10th September as the “Internet Slowdown” day. This campaign gained huge popularity very quickly and it went viral on social networking sites. Millions of people supported in favor of the campaign and asked the federal government and FCC to take immediate actions to implement a neutral Internet. Supporters of the movement are arguing that Internet is a public utility and it should be regulated keeping that in mind.
On the other hand, another group is opposing the movement claiming that the situation is position “wrongly” to the public. They argue that most of the points of the debate are artificial, distracting, and based on an incorrect mental model on how the internet works. They are also claiming that the concept of “fast lane” and “slow lane” is not even true and this debate is such a waste of time. Another reason they put in favor of their argument is that the Internet operation system has changed radically recently and user growth is also increasing massively. Therefore, current scenario should not be compared with the past one. Internet giant Google is also alleged of discriminating service users based on their consumption size. However, Google authority had denied such allegations claiming that it was just a “myth”. They even said that they are actually standing in favor of net neutrality.
As the issue heated up from last couple of years, tons of researches have been produced on the net neutrality topic. Some scholars argued that net neutrality should be considered a social problem and it should be solved with top priority. Stakeholder engagement is necessary to come up with possible suggestions. It has been also argued that blocking or slowing down the Internet is against freedom of speech and against the law. Moreover, federal government, law makers and FCC are fueling the battle for free Internet. There might be valid arguments on both sides of the debate, but using the public sentiment for this movement is making it more appealing. Sooner or later the government and the FCC has to come up with a solution that gives something to both the parties and make our Internet experience smoother.
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