Four and Against – The Net Neutrality Debate

Each week we offer four persuasive arguments for and against a popular topic of debate This week on Four and Against: Net Neutrality. The Debate The Federal Communications Commission recently reversed its stance on Net Neutrality when it backed ‘fast lanes’ for web traffic. Now they’re opening for public debate their new proposed rules for […]

Each week we offer four persuasive arguments for and against a popular topic of debate This week on Four and Against: Net Neutrality.

The Debate

The Federal Communications Commission recently reversed its stance on Net Neutrality when it backed ‘fast lanes’ for web traffic. Now they’re opening for public debate their new proposed rules for guaranteeing an open internet. At issue is whether service providers should be able to charge content providers like HBO and Netflix more money to deliver their shows at higher speeds. Such a system, would in effect, create a two-speed internet where the fast lane is available for those willing and able to afford it.

The arguments for…

1. Equal access to the internet is a right!

The popular opinion is that Net Neutrality is a good thing since it provides equal treatment and access to the internet, keeping it a free and open place for all. The internet has revolutionized free speech and the power of public opinion because it has not been divided into tiers and throttled. As President Obama said of the Internet in 2007, “there is incredible equality there” and charging “different rates to different websites” would destroy that principle.

2. Net Neutrality is good for competition and thus good for innovation!

Without rules protecting Net Neutrality, a content company like Netflix will be able (and required) to pay more to deliver their shows to consumers. Smaller content companies, particularly those offering free video content, will have to wait in line behind Netflix to stream. No matter how good the content is, consumers won’t sit around for many ‘buffering’ pauses.

3. If the content companies have to pay more, the price will trickle down to the consumer!

Amazon and Netflix will have to pay more to produce and deliver their content, which means they will have to charge more. That cost will trickle down to the consumer in the form of higher subscription fees. The market effect won’t balance the costs either, because companies trying to compete with cheaper offers won’t be able to stream at the same high speed.

4. ISPs are trying to ‘Double Dip’!

ISPs argue that they should be incentivized to invest in infrastructure that results in a faster internet. This argument ignores that they are already charging consumers for their infrastructure and are now trying to ‘double dip‘ by charging content providers too. To make matters worse, ISPs effectively have a monopoly in most markets – inhabitants in large cities have just a few cable/internet options and small markets often have one.

The arguments against…

1. Allowing ISPs to charge more will result in faster internet and more innovation!

Service Providers who can make a lot more money charging both the subscribers and the content creators argue that they should be incentivized to continue investing in high speed internet infrastructure, which they will only do if they can charge a premium for that speed. Most ISPs have their markets cornered and consumers have no choice to accept what they have to offer. Giving content providers the option to pay more to subsidize infrastructure investment to reach more isolated areas will in fact lead to great high speed coverage.

2. Net Neutrality is illegal!

There is a valid legal argument against rules regulating Net Neutrality. The internet is not a utility under federal law and thus shouldn’t be regulated like one. That’s the basis for the Federal Appeals court repeatedly striking down the FCCs attempts to propose rules in the first place.

3. Market Demand should control the priority of content on the internet!

One can make a ‘collective good’ argument that popular content deserves higher serving priority (regardless of whether the ISP can charge for it). It’s great that a blogger with one reader has the same chance to distribute on the internet as the creators of Game of Thrones, but do millions of GOT watchers collectively have a greater right to their content than the hundred or so viewers of a small time video blogger? Many consumers argue that without Net Neutrality, ISPs can give preferential treatment to the content they profit from, but the market dictates that popular content will be the most profitable, so isn’t that a good thing?

4. The Internet is already unequal!

The arguments for Net Neutrality assume the net is a neutral place now. In fact, rich companies already have a distinct advantage since they can optimize and invest in their server side to improve performance. Further more, before rules protecting Net Neutrality were enacted, there were only four examples in six years where Internet content was blocked by a service provider. In the words of former F.C.C. commissioner Robert M. McDowell, “The Internet was working beautifully before these rules were implemented…ample laws already exist to protect consumers should market failures occur.”

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