For nearly a year, I’ve been writing about net neutrality – why it’s important, why mobile standards need to be included in any legislation, and how John Oliver broke the FCC website by talking about it. That’s why I was so thrilled when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, after months of deliberation, released the commission’s final proposal to turn the internet into a public utility in order to preserve it as a free and open medium with no restrictions or tiered access.
The reclassification as a public utility is essentially just codifying the way that the internet has always operated. It’s really the best-case scenario for those who value a truly free internet experience. It eliminates the possibility of a “fast lane internet” that would be a boon for ISPs who could hold content providers’ feet to the fire for access to those fast lanes, pick winners and losers on their own, and stifle innovation and creative freedom at the same time.
With the internet codified as a public utility, established businesses win because they don’t have to worry about their content delivery being held for ransom. Innovation wins because new businesses get to compete on a level playing field with the YouTubes, Facebooks, and Netflixes of the world without having to worry about securing extra capital to gain access to a fast lane. And obviously the end users win, because we get to continue to consume whatever content we so choose without having it filtered by the ISPs.
Furthermore, given the billions of dollars of commerce that is conducted every day over the internet, the government has an obligation to ensure that the consumers have full access to the most information available; allowing a tiered service approach that offers access based on how much money companies are willing to spend for delivery goes against everything that a supposedly free market should be.
The only people who don’t win in this scenario are the ISPs themselves and the politicians to whom they lobby. Frankly, it’s a shame that this has become a partisan issue at all, because this is essentially about ensuring that one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind is able to be enjoyed by everyone equally. If any of the politicians who have decided to fight this decision have a problem with that, I suggest they take a trip to one of the many countries where there are internet limitations and see how they like it.
Granted, there are drawbacks to reclassification as a public utility, the biggest of which comes in the form of costs to the end users. The fact of the matter is that there is a finite amount of data that can be sent over the existing infrastructure, and because the proposal does nothing to solve the issue of certain companies (e.g. Netflix) using more than their fair share of bandwidth, ISPs will have to continue to upgrade that infrastructure. Someone will have to pay for those costs, and in lieu of charging the companies for access, the bill most will likely get passed on to the ISPs’ subscribers the same way that maintenance costs for electric cables and gas lines ultimately are.
Yet I’ve said before, as long as ISPs can work out a way to fairly and accurately charge people for their home internet access based on data usage (the way that we do for electric and gas utilities), then at least everyone will be paying their fair share.
There’s no denying that it’s not a perfect solution, but it is the best way to ensure that we will all be able to continue enjoying the internet the way it was meant to be used.