Give Us Net Neutrality or Give Us Death

The absence of net neutrality will spell the end of the Internet. Service providers should not be allowed to slow down certain data flowing on their networks. Pro or con?

Pro: Freedom Means Progress

Google. Skype. Facebook. YouTube. Each of these applications has affected the way we obtain and share information online. Each has encouraged technological innovation, provided tremendous benefits to consumers, and expanded freedom of speech and democracy both here and abroad.

These applications were made possible by an open Internet. Preserving this openness—also called net neutrality—means ensuring that all applications offered over the Internet are entitled to a level playing field. Your Internet service provider (such as Comcast or Verizon) can’t block or slow access to YouTube (GOOG) but speed up the delivery of movies from Hulu.

Google has succeeded in part because no Internet service provider could enter an exclusive contract with Yahoo! (YHOO) to make Yahoo its proprietary search engine. Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and others have grown because an Internet service provider can’t decide who you call or how and where you share your views online. If we allow Internet service providers to make these choices, rather than leaving them in the hands of Internet users, existing applications could be impaired, and new and innovative applications could be killed before they ever make it to market.

As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps says, abandoning openness risks the "cable-ization and consolidation" of the Internet. Imagine if we opened our computers and had the same reaction to the Internet that we often have toward cable television: There’s an illusion of choice—"up to 260 channels"—but there’s nothing on.

In a non-neutral world, that sinking feeling could be coming to a computer near you. And it would be bad for innovation, bad for consumers, and bad for democracy.

Con: Social Web Trumps Net Neutrality Worries

Over the past 15 years, consumers have seen a transformation of their Web experience from AOL’s (AOL) walled gardens to the near-ubiquitous search capability of Google and now, the ability to connect and share with others almost any media and content they wish via the social Web. The Internet has shifted from a corporate-controlled resource to one in which consumers wield power in ways that make it nearly impossible to hinder net neutrality significantly.

While not ideal for users, widespread attacks around the edges of net neutrality will not turn into the doomsday scenario many are predicting, primarily because social media allow consumers so many alternative paths to find what they want.

The rise of the social Web has loosened many of the ties people once felt toward their favorite search engine or broadband provider, making user recommendations, for example, the most critical factor in e-commerce decisions. And while artificial restrictions to access to, or promotion of, one company’s content and media over others might restrict some of these freedoms, consumers have shown tremendous savvy on the Web in finding ways to circumvent obstructions or simply finding substitutions. Meanwhile, some users will actually embrace pricing or service premiums, which, in turn, can propel robust opportunities for companies that invest in content and services.

The Web owes its growth to the concept of democratization. Without users’ taking control—through user-generated video, social networks, recommendations, reviews, etc.—the Internet would look something more like TV or radio, where corporations dictate the terms, control, and the message.

The numerous social features now available on the Web—particularly the power of social recommendations—will allow the Internet to remain a largely free and uninhibited resource.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg Businessweek, Businessweek.com, or Bloomberg LP.

Reader Comments

Athena Melville

I agree. There is nothing more important that net neutrality. All the problems we are having in the world depend on clear, open channels of communication. It is a place where a free press exists today, and it could be taken from "we the people." Then it would become part of the wasteland that radio and television have become.

Sarah Tingen

I like net neutrality, but I am concerned about FCC regulation. Why are we putting the internet in the hands of the government?

Chad

I'm not big on too much government oversight either, Sarah, but the government does exist for a reason, you know. In any case, net neutrality rules don't mean "giving the internet to the government" any more than laws against violent crime mean giving the government the streets. It means nobody can have total control, be it the government or corporate entities. And in any case, to avoid putting the internet in the government's hands, are we going to just let a few big companies have their way with it? That doesn't make any sense to me at all. At least the government can be held accountable to some degree, unlike the fat-cat executives at the cable and telephone companies. We are basically choosing between the lesser of two evils here.

Forrest Boutwell

Remember the book 1984?

bj

Sarah, the internet has always been regulated by the FCC, and it began and thrived as an open neutral internet, which is how companies like Google, Amazon, and Ebay came into existence. It was the reclassification of DSL as an information service rather than a phone service that put net neutrality in jeopardy. If my memory is correct that happened because of a court case and showed that the regulation was not written correctly to cover the eventuality, mostly because all this technology was covering new regulatory ground. What's being debated now is fixing the regulation so things are as they should be, not favoring AT&T and Verizon and Comcast, which have been lobbying to scuttle net neutrality and spreading a lot of money around to both astroturf groups and small organizations for the purpose of spreading their FUD.

This is a very good article, Aparna Sridhar, but I really wish you wouldn't do what the corporations and PR flacks do by calling people "consumers" since it degrades all of us in a very tacky way. I'm a human being, not a "consumer" please.

janet ramsos

We must stand up as a people of the United States of America to these corporations. Free Internet and free speech are one of the same. Net Neutrality is the only way for the Internet to remain a pivotal resource for all Americans.

Richieprints

Apparently you haven't noticed that there's less and less on the Internet as well by comparison to a decade or more ago. We are seeing information inflation, and there's a bubble ahead.

Nick

The only reason to move away from net nuetrality is so that companies can squeeze more money out of people...doesn't make any sense otherwise.

S. Hampton

Trump net neutrality worries? Jon Goldman seems to recognize the value of a neutral internet and than tells us not to worry because the social networking culture will somehow retain it? My question to Jon or anyone who enjoys the neutrality that got us the internet is what is wrong with putting it in writing? I don't trust that AT&T will do the right thing if given a choice to slow down some content over content they own or control. If they claim they would never do that, then put it in writing. And that is called laws! Has everyone forgotten the function of government to provide balance and protections? If not for government, corporations would still be working children the way they did before child labor laws came to be.

Let's protect and retain net neutrality by making it law.

freefall

Sarah, if government or we the people don't own the right to regulate, who does? History has shown time and again the failure of "self-regulation." Do you want to try it again with the internet? The facts are that our government doesn't seem to be we the people, for the people, by the people as it is supposed to be. That's what's at issue here. Someone has to make the rules so the game can be played fairly. When the rules favor the other side or when the rules are changed whenever it suits the privilidged, then the game is rigged. Just look at what the supreme court did to fair election prospects. Sadly I don't expect the F.C.C. to do the right thing--look at their history. Look at how the T.V. and radio industry became such a wasteland. It is the industy that has forced the market into the pathetic wasteland it is.

Mike

Keep net neutrality and free speech for the people and by the people. Pres. Eisenhower told us 50 years ago that the worst 3 things that could happen to us as a country would be big business, big government, and a big powerful military machine. Obviously we didn't listen then, but we can now.

me

I enjoy Internet neutrality today.

I enjoy freedom, and I don't want to pay to be enslaved.

If some company can’t compete in this ecosystem: This is the third wave world. Adapt or die. I don’t need you.

Dan

Sarah happens to be more convincing than the drivel I've read from the pro neutrality camp. From my readings I would conclude that this enterprise is a push for greater control of the internet. A control the government virtually lost in the internet's advent. I wouldn't be so pro-loving-government as decisions have never provided an equal playing field for anyone other than for the few corporations that have continued to lobby political support. The large multinational companies have now only strengthened their positions and the smaller ones are to be left for dead.

P.S. The main stream media are just loving this new-found chance to gain the respect they have lost to the fringe press. Net2 will restrict access to content in the future if this passes as the major backbones will all be controlled by the telcos. Mark my words. We'll be back discussing CNN's great war coverage around the world and paying a premium for it likitty split! :)

Cheat Trainer Hints

I read this page often, and I just thought I’d say keep up the awesome work!

Samantha Collier

I'm all in for net neutrality. It's up to the consumer and corporation to educate themselves on knowing what is contrived online and what seems transparent.

As so with TV, we need to learn that everything you read online may or may not be regulated.

Social media is a great way to interact with people, brands, companies etc. but one still needs to see the "real life" actions of each to back up their online persona, promises.

Tim

Once people let governments in, they don't stop legislating. Besides, this bill does more than prohibit ISPs from discriminating data access.

After it's all done and said, when governments get their foot in the door, they will try to regulate the internet--what sites you can and cannot go to. What application you can run, etc. It's already started

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/09/justice-department-piracy/

This is at the DNS level. However, if the government gets control of the actual "pipe," your free days on the internet are limited. Remember this is the government.

Right now if you don't like how your ISP is working, you can simply switch. With government in the mix. You cannot. Say "no" to net neutrality.

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