Technology has introduced a completely new vocabulary to the common man. Now circulating is the phrase network neutrality. You may have heard the abbreviated version, net neutrality, in an ethics class, a technology seminar, or just in daily conversation among your friends and peers. It is something that few are able to talk in length about, but affects all of us nonetheless. It is currently rising to be one of the hot button issues in both politics and everyday life, and its implications are as vast and varied as the content of the Internet.
Simply put, net neutrality is the idea that the thoughts, images and information on the Internet, regardless of their taste and value, should be available to the denizens on the web in equal measure, allowing them to decide their merit. Some people think that this is the preferable option, and that information, regardless of the caliber, should be available uniformly to everyone with an internet connection. Others feel that all information is not equal, and that some of that information is both dangerous and harmful to the general population. They believe that the some of this information should be censored and controlled, to a tighter degree, and that certain companies be reined in from the boundless arena that is the Internet. Is there a right or wrong answer to the question of 21st century censorship? Perhaps only you can be the judge, so consider the following views that identify pros and cons of a neutral net before you cast your vote regarding the battle of the Internet.
View 1: Aggregate of the Human Experience. Without censorship of internet sites, every great work of human literature, every scientific study, every unique thought and idea that has ever been entered on the World Wide Web is available to you either in part or whole. This principle is what can spur humanity into even greater heights, because every idea is reviewed, modified and shared at an increasingly accelerated pace. Scientists from Brussels and Zimbabwe can work in tandem on flu vaccines, students in the Himalayas can learn about the animals of the great plains, and a father in Tokyo can skype with his son in New York. Not only does it allow us to share information at a faster rate, it allows us to have a more complete human experience.
View 2: Dangerous content and ideas. Allowing for a neutral net also allows people to acquire dangerous, bigoted, and even deadly ideas. Information, in and of itself, is harmless, but when certain facts are placed in the hands of violent and unstable individuals, great damage can be wrought. A degree of censorship is required to protect the public and to keep people safe from information that could be used to harm rather than help.
View 3: Forum for discussion and thought. Having a low censored Internet allows for new ideas to come into light without fear of persecution or retaliation. Some ideas are unsavory, some necessary, some just plain different, but allowing each of them to be heard by millions of people is an empowering part of living in such a golden age of connectivity. Keep in mind that the stifling of ideas and opinions led to some of the darkest ages in human history. By allowing voices to be heard around the world, there is potential to be a more peaceful and empathetic society.
View 4: Allows proportional payment for services: Services such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, etc., use enormous amounts of data, and the companies that provide the world with internet access (namely Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, etc.) receive no profit earned by these service companies. Funds collected by Internet providers could be used to improve and expand access.
View 5: Equal Playing Field for New Products: Unlike other industries where entry barriers are nearly insurmountable, the freedom of the Internet allows a product to succeed or fail based on its merit rather than investment. Companies such as Macintosh, Microsoft, and Amazon were all started with an idea and hard work. Companies like Spotify, Google, Twitter and Snapchat launched and became an overnight success because they were able to market themselves, from the start, on the Internet. Literally millions of people were able to access their service at the click of a button. Allowing for net neutrality helps stimulate new businesses and truly offer what the consumer wants.
View 6: Criminal Activity is easier to conduct: With the Internet growing at an ever-accelerating rate, companies and ordinary people are putting more and more of their personal information out on the net for the sake of simplicity and accessibility. This has led to a plethora of cyber related crimes, including phishing scams, information ransoms and corporate espionage. By providing tighter restrictions on who views certain information, and penalizing those who break through the walls of sensitive intelligence, the Internet will become more secure for everyone.
Who is really the victor in the debate between censorship and expression, neutrality or control? Ultimately, it is we, the users of the Internet, who will give an answer to such an impactful question.
Author: Jacob Hill, IT Student Tech Consultant
McMillan, Robert. “What Everyone Gets Wrong in the Debate Over Net Neutrality.” Wired, Conde Nast, 6 Mar. 2018, www.wired.com/2014/06/net-neutrality-missing/.
Reardon, Marguerite. “What You Need to Know about the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality Regulation.” CNET, CNET, 14 Mar. 2015, www.cnet.com/news/13-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-fccs-net-neutrality-regulation/.
Steimle, Josh. “Am I The Only Techie Against Net Neutrality?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 2 Feb. 2016, www.forbes.com/sites/joshsteimle/2014/05/14/am-i-the-only-techie-against-net-neutrality/#7c4a975070d5.
“What Is Net Neutrality?” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/internet-speech/what-net-neutrality.