The decision by the FCC to protect net neutrality has repercussions that extend beyond preventing Internet Service providers from “throttling” service and creating “fast lanes.” Designating the Internet as a utility is an important moment for our society.
The Internet, now protected under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, is more equal in both accessibility and function. As previously mentioned in a column by Jazmyn Griffin, a level playing field is essential for entrepreneurship. Access to quality Internet service has allowed the tech industry to flourish and has been integral to the software industry’s incredible ingenuity. This is especially relevant to Austin’s status as one of the top cities in the tech industry for business development. Without equal access to equal Internet service, startup tech companies would not have the exposure or the capability to compete and grow.
One of the great characteristics of the Internet is its democratic nature. Opponents to net neutrality, like Verizon, sought to create a class system by creating a privileged Internet service.
How many of us would be able to afford premium Internet? If college students were not able to afford Internet in the fast lane, Facebook may not have “gone viral” and become the global phenomenon it is today. Apps for both business and pleasure would be prevented from accessing the market. Much of the tech industry’s success is the instant access and availability of the product.
Many Austinites were excited when Google announced that Austin would be receiving the new Google Fiber Internet service. However, installation has been slow.
Previously, AT&T refused to let Google use its telephone poles and other infrastructure already in place. Google was not considered by law as a “telecommunications provider” and thus was forced to construct its own infrastructure or pay AT&T.
This policy prevented increased competition in the Austin area and may have doomed the effort if the company were smaller than Google. Now that the Internet is legally a utility, Google and other Internet service providers can compete using the infrastructure in place and more easily move into new markets. The market is more competitive, which promotes efficiency and quality service.
Declaring the Internet as a utility fits within a larger historical context. Universal utility services help define us as a civilization. At the moment net neutrality appears to stand out as a singular movement of the new millennium.
However, this decision can be compared to past resolutions, which implemented telephone, water and electric services. Today we consider these services to be basic necessities because of their previous designation as public utilities. The omnipresence of these services is part of what makes the average American quality of life one of the best in the world.
And there is a reason that certain services have been established as public utilities. There is an underlying principle that empowering our society as a whole is beneficial.
The electric service industry may not operate at the highest profitability possible. But that isn’t the point. While the free market is certainly an important part of our nation and culture, it has its drawbacks in certain areas.
What if other utility services operated based on the will of the market? What if electric companies provided stable electricity service to those who could afford it, and rolling blackouts plagued poor and rural communities?
What if the safer potable tap water cost extra to come out of the faucet? What if it wasn’t guaranteed that your toilets would flush unless you paid for premium sewage service?
These scenarios could be more profitable, and the majority of Americans would probably be able to afford it. But we have decided that together we are stronger when these and other services are extended to the public, extended to everyone.
Defining the Internet as a utility makes it a right and not a privilege. We have the right not to use the service, and we have the right to pay for as much of it as we would like, but we also have the right to the product free from discrimination. We are going to contribute for our collective benefit.
America stands for more than profit and individual freedom. As a society we succeed when opportunity is maximized, and when the fortunate invest in those with less than.
Most interpretations of the American dream are based on equal opportunity. As a society we have decided that the quality of essential services should not be reduced based on privilege. The less fortunate must work hard to make a better life for themselves, but in the 21st century, the ability to work hard would be obstructed by life in the slow lane.
Burchard is a Plan II and international relations and global studies senior from Houston. Follow Burchard on Twitter @nathburch.