Free the Internet: Support net neutrality

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, August 5, 2018 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Amery Lei Mamuad
Moanalua High School, Class of 2019

In April 2017, current FCC chairperson Ajit Pai announced his plans to reverse the 2015 net neutrality order. Although the announcement was met with  dissent - including thousands of businesses, political leaders, and pioneers of the internet - and a preponderance of public outcry, the FCC still proceeded  with their decision to end net neutrality. Irrespective of the FCC’s reasonable concerns for the repeal, the government should consider re-establishing net neutrality because the repeal allows companies to exploit consumers’ internet needs to gain more money for themselves.

Net neutrality is the principle that the government should regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to treat all data of the internet equally. In other words, ISPs should not be allowed to deliberately slow down or block a person’s access to an internet service. Despite the supposed benefits, however, opponents of the repeal claim that there are significant drawbacks. Critics believe that the repeal can allow companies to give faster internet service to those who pay more, creating a prioritized “fast lane”. These “fast lanes” can eliminate smaller companies, which don’t have the money or influence to gain faster internet speeds to compete against larger companies. Discord, for example, is an online video chat app for gamers. Jason Citron, CEO of Discord, says that this application relies on net neutrality to keep internet traffic equal amongst all companies. Net neutrality levels the playing field for smaller companies, like Discord, against larger companies. Theoretically, without net neutrality in place, even if Discord provided superior services for consumers, bigger companies could still overtake them by partnering with ISPs and gaining access to a “fast lane”. Thus, instead of innovating or creating even better products to compete against such a company, competitors could merely tap into their financial resources in order to stifle competition. Not only is this manipulation abusive, but it would consistently allow large companies, like AT&T and Time Warner Cable, to dominate the market. They already have access to unrivaled resources, which often lead to prominent advertisements and the buying out of competition. These current practices, coupled with prioritized internet service, could solidify the monopolization of many industries.The repeal eliminates competition for larger companies, which unfairly reduces the already limited chances for smaller companies to compete in the internet.

Opponents of net neutrality argue that paid prioritization from ISPs will require consumers to pay more for a better internet experience. Intentionally throttling internet access or offering preferential treatment is a selfish cash grab. Only those who can afford to pay up will reap maximum benefits from the service, while those who don’t pay will continually be edged out. With the repeal, more people will end up unable to access the internet simply because they can’t afford it along with other financial obligations.

The FCC attempts to address these concerns by requiring that companies have to be “transparent about their business practices.” On principle, if the public is informed of what businesses do to with their money prior to using their services, then they will patronize companies they believe are ethical. Though it’s remarkable that the FCC attempted to address these concerns, businesses will likely refuse to disclose company information to the public - which includes any and all competing businesses. In addition, it is simply not enough to tell businesses to be transparent. Such a term is very vague for companies to use and eventually exploit. The FCC had reasonable claims to repeal net neutrality, as there is a need to regulate internet activity. However, removing net neutrality entirely should not be the solution. The repeal does harm than good by creating an exploitable opportunity.