Net neutrality evens online playing field between large companies, small businesses

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Photo Credit: John Pesina | Daily Texan Staff

Finally, the left and right wings can agree on something. 

Recent bipartisan and presidential support behind net neutrality, in addition to the FCC chairman's sudden announcement of full support Feb. 4, brought the U.S. several steps forward in the battle over the Internet, but stirred up controversy within the government and much debate online. While the discussion over what Internet service providers can and cannot do to users’ Internet access might not be on every student’s radar, net neutrality should be enforced to promote free speech and take strides toward equality.

For those who don’t know, net neutrality is the term used to describe a limit on companies’ control of what Internet users have complete access to. As of now, large ISPs like AT&T and Comcast can make access to certain sites faster or slower depending on their popularity and how much sites are willing to pay for a faster speed. This leaves smaller pages stuck with a slow connection when users attempt to gain access.

It may not seem like a pressing issue to all until the question of who actually benefits from this deal is examined. Large companies in opposition want to give the benefit of speed to those backed by money and leave behind those who may not have the ability to pay. That leaves everything from social justice blogs trying to make a change in the world to independent labels attempting to start up their career unable to reach those they aim to. When giving a voice to the voiceless or even attempting to stop injustice, paying extra for people to go to a site can be a burden.

Under Obama’s proposal, the Internet would have utility-style regulation under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. With regulations against paid speed prioritization, Internet conditions would improve as the FCC would have more legal control over the discriminatory actions of Internet companies. 

Section 202 of Title II prohibits any "discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service." 

This would prohibit ISPs from creating fast lanes, leveling the playing field for all sites, no matter their budget. This means any business or person, from startups to bloggers, can get their name out there with no trouble or restrictions from ISPs.

Opponents argue that net neutrality would be a step backward from the freedom Americans have gained over the years. In a point made by UT alumna Chelsea McCullough on the Texas Enterprise blog, she claims, “Title II means that apps like Instagram, your Kindle, anything that transmits Internet connectivity could be subject to an intense level of regulation, taking us back 80 years.” What really takes us back, though, is a situation wherein powerful people side with the rich, trivializing the customers' experience. 

Limited access to sites not backed by money causes a shortage in what individuals are exposed to, again meaning those using their First Amendment right to freedom of speech to call out wrongdoings or expose crooked corporations may not be heard — or heard after an unnecessarily slow buffering time.

Slowing small sites down if they can’t pay up could make a huge difference in income and job opportunity. Nowadays, most Americans access information and ideas online — circumstances different from when the Internet was originally created. With this shift in popularity, laws and regulations need to be modified in order to protect users and keep the Internet free and open. ISPs don’t have the right to control how much or what knowledge their consumers have access to. In order to win the fight for equality, ISPs shouldn’t be able to provide their services with bias.

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.