The necessity of net neutrality

Prottoya D.S Chowdhury | Published: February 03, 2018 00:10:51


As citizens are living in a globalised world where physical distance is not a limiting factor to dissemination of information, it is appalling to note that we attach little importance to the mutilation of one of the most precious, yet accessible, resources we were bestowed upon by the advent of the hyper-technological age-the dissolution of net neutrality will snatch the gift of freedom of speech and the universal act of privacy from the citizens of the world and allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to regulate and censor the opinions of common people. In an era where the greatest success in human history is the strengthening of the voice of the people and abolishing of social, racial and religious divides between different societies and individuals, the poll held by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) on December 14 last to repeal the net neutrality laws under Title II of the Communications Act seems like a huge downward slippage back to square one for human society as a whole. And tragically enough, it is. Under Title II, the FCC of the United States could prohibit ISPs from blocking and censoring contents from the internet, thus allowing public opinions to flow freely across the internet world and, thus, marginalising smaller internet-based businesses and firms by providing larger internet corporations, 'Big Techies', with a larger share of the internet bandwidth. Ultimately, the repeal of net neutrality will fatten the wallets of the 'Big Boys' of the tech-business sector and place further impediments to the already uneven and rocky trails of the smaller and nascent startups- in simpler terms, the pot-bellied rich can choose to indulge in finest caviar while the promising underdogs in the tech-playfield struggle to make their both ends meet.

The reason net neutrality is such a nebulous concept to many of the educated individuals of society is the result of the combined efforts of large tech-corporations to keep a large proportion of the global population vaguely aware of the implications and long-term, global impacts of the repeal of net neutrality. Large American tech-giants, such as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, AT&T, Verizon and Google, support the removal of net neutrality as it will make uneven the playing field for many newcomers in the exponentially growing tech-industry and eliminate the rise of new competitors in the tech-industry who pose a threat to the business of the larger tech-corporations.

The changes and new set of regulations, which will be largely determined by the large ISPs that will come about as a result of the removal of net neutrality, will not stop at just that; instead, they will set off a chain reaction that will trickle down to large tech-corporations and ultimately to the consumers across the globe. Large American ISPs like Comcast and AT&T, who control a large share of the internet business not only in the US but also across the globe, will commence their use of the power that's been handed them by the FCC by slapping the tech-companies of all sorts and sizes with hefty fees, fees that only the deep pockets of the 'Big Boys' in the tech-game can afford to shell out, to assure corporations that their internet content is given adequate bandwidth to be accessed by all their consumers. Unfortunately, smaller corporations, no matter how promising and quick- growing they may be, have a fraction of the financial capabilities of large corporations; the large fees slapped on their desks will, in the longer term, choke smaller corporations slowly and miserably to the point of bankruptcy, eliminating competitors in the tech-playfield and hence allow the internet to become a monopoly for the larger tech-corporations to reap their benefits from. However, the larger tech-corporations will spread the burden of the hefty fees on their consumers by forcing consumers to pay for access to their internet contents. As a result, consumers will be forced to pay for access to contents of individual websites. And this will be a global practice- all over the world across all continents.

In many parts of the developing world, where the uninitiated are only beginning to benefit from uninterrupted, free access to the internet, all that is about radically changing their and their dependents' lives. Many of the users of such technology are financially and socio-economically-challenged and money to them is something that they can hardly afford to spend to gain access to specific contents on the internet; the gift of access to information regarding a variety of aspect, most notably health and education, has been snatched away at a critical moment of their lives. The result of this will be countless developing nations along with the millions of people, who once had a highly resourceful information portal they could utilise to improve both their conditions and the state of their nation's economy, completely left in the dark, unable to grow to their full potential.

However, the repeal of net neutrality will cripple promising tech-startups that are trying to add a new, novel dimension to innovation in technology and science. These newer tech-corporations simply will not have the means, the financial clout and market-influence to sustain themselves in the convoluted monopoly of large tech-corporations. In the end, what the repeal is in essence doing is prohibiting new ideas, new concepts and novel approaches to a variety of significant issues in the world from germinating and proliferating and, thereby, helping the world at large.

Meanwhile, although it may be argued that the tech giants, with their large fortunes and fat wallets, will lead innovation themselves by channeling a large proportion of their funds towards research and development (R&D) into different sectors, very rarely is it apparent that money-making giants suddenly turn into selfless benefactors of human society. Instead, large corporations will be prowling for more opportunities to manipulate the market to their own financial advantage, thus only increasing their hegemonic monopoly. The bottom line is that net neutrality will slowly kill off advancements in the technological and science sectors of business, as they will be fixated on their monetary gains due to the lack of adequate competition. In the tech-industry, hard competition is what spurs innovation and the introduction of new concepts and ideas that widen the technological frontier; competition is the prime mover for all kinds of tech-corporations to search for opportunities to bring new kinds of ideas and technology to the table for consumers. Thinking logically, any corporation will look for what advantages they can provide to consumers in order to maximise their growth and earnings.

The internet, at this very moment, is the largest, most far-reaching and effective catalyst for widespread changes in the world. With the introduction of an internet which is censored by large ISPs, many of the activist groups that are working to guarantee the unfortunate and the deprived their basic human rights will be barred from their audience, their powerhouse. Out of all the activist groups, the most heavily affected will be the ones that are concerned about minority groups. Most of the major ISPs are owned and operated by people who are a majority in their respective countries; these people are barely concerned about how different minorities, who have different social and religious moorings, are being deprived in the world and will likely want to remove catalysts of change that they do not like and do not want to see. In the end, the voices of the ordinary, the powerhouse of revolutionary changes in today's society, will simply be muted.

The integration of money and avarice tends to alter the purpose of even the most revolutionary discoveries; the thought of abundant affluence corrupts even the most altruistic of human beings. Such is the story of internet: a revolutionary network of computers and their data spanning the whole world that was built to expedite the dissemination of ideas and information. At its very core, it is simple to realise that the internet was never developed with the intent of turning it into a money-making machine. It may be true that billions, even trillions of dollars have been shelled out in developing the internet, but financial resources that are being exhausted for furthering the improvement of the wellbeings of the  human race as a whole should be expended with the intent of charity- not with the thought of sitting on a throne made with stacks of hundred dollar bills. In all simplicity, the repeal of Title II of the Communications Act is an exchange of global development and equality for an increase in revenue for ISPs and large tech-corporations that will total hundreds of billions of dollars, a trade-off of a world where countless economies once peddling on the streets to sustain themselves are prospering and making a historic mark in their economy for a world where the rich become richer and the poor poorer.  

pchowdhurry@hamdenhall.org

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