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Net neutrality has been an ever-evolving debate, constantly pitting consumers against telecommunication lobbyists. Essentially,  it is a debate of whether or not the content consumers view on the internet can be privatized to internet providers.

Telecommunication industries spend millions each year lobbying for the ability to sort, filter and even remove what is viewable to their customers on the web. As of yet, there has been no such measure passed, due to large outrage by consumers.

Imagine sitting at home and going on the internet to watch a movie on Netflix. Now, you have Comcast as your internet provider. Imagine that, once you click on a video, your internet starts to slow down — so slow that you can’t even view the video without having to wait an hour for it to load. Better yet, what if you weren’t even allowed to view Netflix? Why? Because Comcast doesn’t want you to.

Without internet neutrality, this is a very real situation that could occur. When internet domains are privatized, your provider could completely shut down your access to any website they choose, including its competitors.

Now, this power does not simply extend to companies shutting out their competition. What if your telecommunication provider was lobbying for an act that would benefit them, but just couldn’t get the support they need? Maybe they would seek the support of other lobbyists in exchange for services. Say this was a big oil provider, like BP. Now, in this situation, your provider could filter out news results that you search about any oil spills that could be damaging the environment.

Although it is a completely hypothetical situation, this is still a possibility. Creating a closed internet allows the essentially unlimited power to show consumers exactly what providers wish them to see. It could easily degenerate into a system of private companies controlling the perceptions of the public.

With news and TV providers already having political affiliations, the internet is the one safe haven where both sides and all sides of an issue can be viewed. Filtering out even more than what already has been would go against the fundamental freedoms of this nation.

Providers could sell out their space too, making certain websites and companies more prominent in search results. This could make it impossible to have any start-ups or small corner companies even get on the map digitally. With so much electronic influence in our lives, this could turn the competitive free market that the internet provides into a cyberspace ruled by monopolies.

Many have voiced out against net neutrality. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Tom Wheeler, for example, adamantly opposes the concept. He considers it a dangerous place for consumers and for companies trying to make an honest living. Wheeler believes that, through regulation of the internet by providers, piracy and internet fraud could be cut down significantly. This is the same argument that was provided by SOPA in its implementation as well.

Now, there are many ways in which Wheeler just isn’t correct in his views of the internet. First of all, he is the chairman of the FCC, but before that, he was an avid lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. Before that, he was the president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA). He might not have the most unbiased opinion on the matter.

Let’s look at his argument. Though it is possible for telecommunication industries to filter out harmful contents from the internet, it would be much too much power to provide to these industries. There is no need to allow this privatization to singular companies in what they deem to be harmful. This means there could be certain sites one provider blocks that another doesn’t. This would depend entirely on the bias of the company itself, therefore allowing the company to support its own personal interests.

If all providers were to block the same sites, there’s no need for the shift of power. If it was a blanket response to certain sites, then it would be something that the federal government could handle, rather than individual companies.

On top of this, Wheeler has supported internet fast lanes. These are the exact reason that a closed internet is considered dangerous. Fast lanes would allow internet providers to charge fees to pages that wish to have high speed internet. Other pages could be slowed down to speeds where they are practically not viewable.

Net neutrality allows the internet to be a safe and free domain for all consumers to use. Without it, this free flow of ideas could be limited and restricted to agendas outside the consumers’ control.

Despite arguments big lobbyists might make, there is no way in which to provide these services with the same quality and freedom if there was control by those who profit off that control.

 

Ali Siddiqui is second-year biomedical engineering major. He can be reached at siddiqa1@uci.edu.

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