Net neutrality not so neutral

by Anthony Berteaux, Senior Staff Columnist


Chances are everyone in college has done three things: breathed, taken a dump and starred at a loading screen. If you’ve been on the Internet in the past week or so, you’ve probably seen it across different sites. What you’ll notice is different is how the loading screen you’ll see isn’t just a simple loading screen, but a political statement made by many social media giants to oppose an unpopular decision by the Federal Communications Commision to move forward in ending net neutrality.

The Internet, as we know it, has operated under the idea of net neutrality. It has always operated as an open medium, free from corporate preference or politics. We can watch Netflix at the same speeds at which we can watch YouTube videos.

For those who aren’t familiar with the politics behind net neutrality, the battle for net neutrality is a battle for this exact concept of equal access to the internet for all users. Internet service providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, are lobbying against the government to end this idea of equal access to Internet. ISPs are lobbying for corporate control over the speeds of the Internet for different sites, such as charging fees for faster connections to sites like Google or Netflix. The cable companies can charge to choose what content the public sees and how fast they see it. It’s a basic principle, which allows for more regulatory control over the Internet.

You can see why the Internet community has rallied against this end to net neutrality. Earlier last summer, HBO comedy show host, John Oliver made a public call on his show “Last Week Tonight” for the public to rally against the FCC and stop the end to net neutrality. The desperate call to action is understandable as the very idea of the Internet we know it is about to change drastically.

While popular opinion has been to oppose the end to net neutrality, as it has become aware with the “Battle for the Net” social movement, I’m here to say I support the end to net neutrality — to a certain extent — and you should too.

Net neutrality, the cause everyone has been fighting for, never existed in the first place. The only difference is that they’re charging for it now.”

First, the arguments against the end of Net Neutrality have been simply oppositions to the idea of fast lanes for certain companies for a fee. While the idea of cable companies giving exclusive “fast lane” access by a monetary charge, at face-value is an idea that seems oppressive and controlling, it’s a move that makes sense.

What this decision means is that services that get a lot of usage, therefore taking up a lot of bandwidth, will have to pay a fee if they want to keep up fast access to their sites. Therefore, sites such as YouTube or Google, which get high usage internationally, will pay a fee for faster access. This also means that organizations such as hospitals or government agencies, which have to access information swiftly and consistently, will have to pay a fee. Of course, the companies have to pay a fee, however for the consumers; it’s highly beneficial to have fast and reliable access to already well-established sites.

However, the main misconception is that the idea of “fast lanes” is a new concept, when in fact; our Internet has been operating in a system of fast lanes and slow lanes for quite some time. Web giants such as Google and Apple have negotiated and obtained direct connections to Internet companies and run exclusive servers in the Internet providing companies because of the sheer amount of traffic they get. Instead of going through separate cables and data centers, Google and Apple can have direct access to servers. It’s these connections which allow for reliable access to these services. This separates the Internet into fast and slow lanes as to not crash the whole system.

So if this issue isn’t about “net neutrality” or “fees” then what is it?

It’s about hypotheticals. The issue is about what could potentially happen if ISPs had control over what content goes through the Internet, which isn’t an argument that is grounded in fact or knowledge, but fear. An editorial in the Guardian states that this issue is about, “free speech” and “preventing powerful interests from discriminating against, censoring, slowing down and blocking content on the Internet.”

These arguments against ISPs are arguments that don’t understand that this isn’t so much about control over the content over the Internet, but more so how it’s connected. This control over how it’s connected can lead to either protection from malicious hackers and websites or it can lead to hypothetical corruption. This has misled many of us into the wrong direction. However, in a world where we become distrustful of those in power because of the revelations of the NSA, this argument becomes somewhat legitimized.

If we look at it this way, the arguments against the FCC aren’t about a fight against ending net neutrality, but it’s about a fight against corporate corruption and holding them accountable. That is an entirely different issue from ending net-neutrality, which proves how misdirected this issue is. A fight for the end to net-neutrality is a fight for reliable and fast access to YouTube, Facebook or even Blackboard.

Unless we learn to redirect the focus of this issue toward what it’s really about, we’re forever going to be stuck at a loading screen, waiting for something to change.