The FCC chairman Ajit Pai wants to overturn net neutrality rules set in place by the Obama Administration back in 2015. This is quite the problem. In this piece, I'm going to dissect his argument and throw out some of my own why net neutrality is vital to competition. Net neutrality is the leash keeping these Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in check and letting them lose could cause chaos.
The core arguments of Mr. Pai come down to a few key points. He believes that net neutrality laws have harmed ISPs and has stifled growth in the industry. He believes that by getting rid of these restrictions, ISPs are going to grow and we will see new markets rise and speeds increase. He believes the internet is regulated simply to give the government more power over us. There are a few key problems with these arguments however that Mr. Pai has refused to properly acknowledge.
Let's start with his belief that net neutrality laws have harmed ISPs. This is just false. The ISPs themselves have admitted that net neutrality laws have had no impact on them at all. After net neutrality passed, they admitted that it would not impact their plans to expand their fiber networks. No, the stifled growth comes down to a lack of competition. So would ending net neutrality help with this? Not likely.
As most Americans are aware of, there is very little direct competition in the ISP industry. Most of us have two options, three if we are really lucky. This has been a problem for awhile now, long before net neutrality was put in place. This is a problem, but not one solved by ending net neutrality. These regional monopolies come about through legislature, namely the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, and cost. A lot of areas have plans that allow just a few companies to bring about the cable to an entire region. It is this policy that has killed competition and why they throw a fit whenever Google fiber tries to expand into their regions. Setting up fiber networks is also expensive. They have to completely dig out the old infrastructure to build a new one. This, however, is no excuse as they have had plenty of time and money to do so.
Now, it is important to note that the current policy isn't necessarily perfect. There may be some cost issues that do hurt smaller ISPs. However, reversing net neutrality as a whole is certainly no answer. In fact, it has helped these small ISPs in many ways, such as allowing them to run Netflix as at a decent speed. If net neutrality goes away and suddenly Netflix has to pay more to access decent speeds, they are going to ignore the smaller businesses because of cost. While the current system may not be perfect, especially as it is vague in certain areas, it does not call for a full on reversal of policy.
Now, let's get into some reasons to keep net neutrality. An interesting argument going around is that the internet wasn't broken before these regulations, so why keep them? An interesting argument, if it were true. The internet was most certainly not the perfect place before net neutrality. We had to deal with Comcast extorting Netflix for more money. Verizon blocked people from using tethering apps so they would be forced to pay and use their own. These are a just a few examples, there are plenty more.
A popular application Discord could have died if these actions were allowed to continue. Imagine if Microsoft was allowed to ban Discord from Windows so they could promote Skype? That certainly doesn't sound very competitor friendly. This isn't just a hypothetical, AT&T tried to do something very similar to Skype. They forced Apple to block the program and force users to use their own app.
It is clear that net neutrality is vital to keeping a ISPs in line and keeping the market competitive. The lack of options in the cable market has nothing to do with net neutrality and the ISPs themselves have admitted it did not hurt their expansion plans. The internet may not have been broken before these policies, but it was certainly not an ideal place. While I am certainly in favor of making some small changes to reduce cost and make certain aspects more clear, the core tenants of net neutrality must remain in place.
The FCC is set to vote on the issue December 14th and unfortunately, it is very likely to pass.Thankfully, that isn't the end of the fight. The FCC is very likely to be sued for this and their position is a tough one to hold up in court. A vast majority of Americans are in favor of net neutrality. This means the FCC will have to prove the landscape has changed so much since 2015 that the people no longer need net neutrality. This is unlikely. Especially when it seems they allowed bots to fill their comments and refused to aid in the investigation. For now, all we can do is contact them and let our voices be heard.