BY: SARAH HOWELL
On September 10, the speed of the Internet may have made you want to put your fist through the screen. The lag was more than just a test of users’ patience, an interruption in your “Orange Is The New Black” binge. It was a virtual protest meant to illustrate the loading times that people would face if the Federal Communications Commission had its way and didn’t classify the Internet as a Title II utility.
Alongside major web providers and advocacy groups like Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, and Free Press, Netflix, Etsy, BitTorrent, Mozilla, Kickstarter, and Reddit all participated in the “Internet Slowdown Day,” an act of digital activism meant to “encourage the FCC to change its current course and take necessary steps to protect net neutrality through Title II reclassification,” according to a press release from FightForTheFuture.org.
The term net neutrality, coined by Columbia University’s Tim Wu in 2003, refers to the belief that Internet service providers (ISPs) should be completely independent of Internet content—that they should have no say in what is or isn’t viewed and should treat all data on the Internet equally regardless of content, platform, or site.
The FCC, however, is proposing regulation that would result in two classifications: a fast lane for corporations that can pay their fees and a slow lane for everyone else. It’s as if the highway had a lane that only Lamborghinis were allowed to drive in.
If this regulation were put into place, ISPs would be able to block Internet applications, content, and competition, which would create a closed Internet where established companies are treated with favouritism and smaller companies and web owners are given restricted Internet access. Proponents of net neutrality argue that, had the Internet not been open, sites such as Facebook and Twitter might never have been created.
The goal of the net neutrality movement is to regulate ISP under Title II classification. Title II utilities are basic utilities, such as electricity or water, governed through a controlled structure with strict regulation. Though the FCC has recently supported a free and open Internet, they do not support the reclassification of the Internet as a Title II utility.
In the U.S, the ISP monopoly resides with Comcast, the country’s biggest ISP, which plans on merging with cable behemoth Time Warner. (Comcast was rated 2014’s worst company in America, notorious for poor customer service and blatant disregard to consumers.) The merger decision has been delayed, but, should the companies become one, competition would effectively be squashed. If the net neutrality movement is successful, it would force companies to lease their networks to competitors at cost, allowing for new providers to enter the market, resulting in a drop of prices.
As Susan Crawford, a former advisor to Obama, puts it, “Americans pay so much because they don’t have a choice. If left to their own devices, companies that supply Internet access will charge high prices because they face neither competition nor oversight.”
But some have stated that the success of the net neutrality movement would create government oversight of the Internet. They argue that’s a problem, given that the early success of the Internet largely relied on the fact that, following the U.S. military invention of ARPANET—a prototype version of the Internet created to decentralize long-range communication—the Internet was allowed to grow without red-tape regulations smothering innovation.
So we are left standing before two suited strangers, both with one outstretched hand and another behind their back. The question is, do they both hold rocks in their hidden hands? Are we to trust government regulation to oversee a free Internet and represent our best interests? Or are we to trust monopolistic corporations that want to regulate content and make us pay per page?