Last week, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget took the first steps in keeping the Internet fair and open.
The office finally signed what is commonly known as the net neutrality rules. Net neutrality goes something like this: The Internet is an open medium and you connect to it via Internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T and Verizon.
Net neutrality is the notion that all websites are equal in terms of connection speed and quality and your ISPs are not allowed to discriminate against different kind of content online. For example, net neutrality ensures that a company such as AT&T cannot make your Gmail work more slowly than your Yahoo! Mail just because Yahoo! is an AT&T partner.
Net neutrality has been a hotly debated topic over the past couple of years, and the passage of the regulations will no doubt stoke the flames once again. And while these new guidelines are an important first step toward protecting net neutrality, they do not go far enough.
This ideal has created a level playing field for everyone on the web. Sites including The Daily Texan’s are able to compete with sites such as CNN because both have the same accessibility level. Certain telecommunication companies, however, want to disrupt this equilibrium by becoming gatekeepers of the Internet. They want the authority to decide which websites go fast, slow or won’t go at all. Essentially, these ISPs want to tax the Internet by creating a fast lane for their own web content and those of companies that pay them, while demoting everyone else to the slow lane.
The Federal Communications Commission’s guidelines offer a temporary sigh of relief, as they prohibit ISPs from blocking or impeding web content on their networks. These new rules focus those providing a fixed wire connection.
However, they do not apply to wireless providers, who can monitor various traffic speeds.
With the mass proliferation of smart phones and tablets, wireless devices are growing at a very fast rate and the FCC must expand its ruling to ensure that content accessed wirelessly are not regulated in any manner.
And don’t expect opponents of net neutrality to go away without a fight. The FCC ruling was passed three-to-two, entirely along party lines with the three Democratic commissioners for the new rules and the two Republican commissioners against them. Companies such as Verizon and Metro PCS are expected to challenge the legality of these soon-to-be laws with aid from lawmakers. These opponents argue that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate the Internet and that the new regulations will hurt consumers.
These arguments are flawed on many fronts. The FCC’s goal is to ensure that the Internet remains open and that companies should not be allowed to upset that balance.
While Republican lawmakers want to keep government out of regulating the Internet, passing the reins to companies and allowing their regulations to kick in would clearly hurt consumers. It would force us to partake in a pay-per-view version of the Internet as websites would have to charge a fee to stay on the fast lane.
Just imagine doing a research paper without the use of Google or Wikipedia because you cannot access or pay for them. Net neutrality protects students by providing us the freedom of choice. Because everything online is equal, we can freely choose between different avenues of entertainment or academic related activities. The loss of net neutrality would severely damage our ability to expand our knowledge.
Net neutrality ensures that innovation on the Internet can continue because the next big thing will be accessible by anyone, anywhere. Corporations won’t be able to simply push their way to a top spot on the web simply by paying large sums of money.
The beauty of a free-flowing Internet governed by net neutrality is that it empowers the individual. Anyone with an Internet connection has the ability to access huge troves of digital knowledge for personal uses.
Internet service providers’ jobs are to move data, not to filter it.
Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior.