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.