The hotly-debated topic, net neutrality, is back in the news—and it’s all because of President Trump.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers and governments regulating the internet should treat all data on the internet equally. This means a provider can’t charge different fees or vary data speed, for example, based on content, website, user, application, and other factors.
Consider what can happen if there were absolutely zero regulations in place keeping service providers from completely screwing over customers:
- Suppose some mainstream news-hating gazillionaire—buys an ISP. Along with the ISP, this rich person picks up a few networks like NBC, HBO, or some independent channels. Conceivably, someone wielding thus much content power could arrange a bandwidth slowdown to channels with content which he may politically disagree, creating a poor user experience for those channels viewers. Perhaps even eventually he blocks those channels/networks, citing low viewership numbers.
- Another super wealthy person buys Cox Communications or Charter, for example. The new CEO offers three tiers of service. The highest tier is extremely expensive, but provides very fast internet access, with a special package that includes premium channels. That means only those who can afford the best package are getting the best internet speeds as well as access to content. The new CEO has—more or less—created internet ghettos.
- Imagine if you just bought a Smart TV. Not only can you watch all the content you want on Netflix, Hulu, and Sling, but you can also browse the internet through your TV. You are so excited, you cancel your cable TV and now only pay for internet. However, your ISP has its own customized channels and content. They offer customers who have both their TV and internet package a maps app and an app to buy movie tickets. If you don’t have this package, then the ISP blocks you from accessing Google Maps and Fandango when you are browsing the internet.
Think these scenarios sound far fetched? They aren’t. Without regulations that uphold the idea of net neutrality, ISPs, cellular companies, and content providers are able to get away with these types of unethical behavior; anything to maximize profit, no matter how unfair to the consumer.
Unsurprisingly, many Republicans and those in favor of the notion that corporations have rights, are against net neutrality. And President Trump just placed one such person, Ajit Pai, in charge of the FCC—the organization that oversees rules and regulations in telecommunications.
Pai is a former lawyer for Verizon, and as you may imagine, Verizon as well as other ISPs and carriers are staunchly opposed to net neutrality. It’s clear that their goal is to place corporate interests before the consumers. That’s a detriment to the average person and particularly those in minority communities who may struggle to pay exorbitant fees for what, by now, should be considered a must-have utility just like electricity—affordable and equal access to the internet and content.
The Tech 100 is a column focused on the crossroads of tech, politics, and social matters. Follow @samaralynn