Group 9: Jacob H and Xue L

Net Neutrality

Abstract

Network Neutrality, or just Net Neutrality, is an important aspect of the Internet. It provides Internet users the ability to browse through all content on the Internet without any form of discrimination. This includes all of the sites we shop, manage bank accounts, read news, or just surf. It also guarantees that the speeds we download at will be "un-managed" by third parties. We take these privileges for granted without realizing the effects of what would happen if Net Neutrality were to be tampered with. It is important that people are aware of the existence of Net Neutrality for this very reason: large corporations are trying to control the Internet traffic in order to limit competition. Of course, doing so would save thousands for themselves, but would cost average consumers even more just to achieve "regular" download speeds - or even to access common sites like Google and Yahoo!

Introduction

The first amendment of the United States of America's Constitution states that people should have the freedom to express however they want, when they want, and where they want without being oppressed. The first amendment itself also protects the media from being censored, media such as the news, the entertainment industry, and even the internet. Net Neutrality is basically an extension of the first amendment of the United States' Constitution. What Net Neutrality stands for is that every individual who accesses the internet should have the same privilege to view whatever content they want, however they want, and whenever they want. The purpose isn't entirely based on the contents of the internet; it is also the software that is developed and freely exchanged throughout the internet between many users. (Raman) claimed that the term Net Neutrality is new to our modern society, also proclaiming that “Internet Traffic” must be viewed and treated on same level for any individuals with no boundaries from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and governments. He stated that they should not intervene on any materials that might have any relations to the means of communication. (The United States Congress House Committee 2008) indicated that the internet has started a new era of social communication, not just locally but globally, ever since its birth. Because of the fact that the internet has evolved tremendously in social influence throughout its lifespan, it's understandable how the government would want to regulate the contents of the internet. Unfortunately, the use of regulation is visibly corrupt, as big companies like Yahoo (who have a branch in China, which is still a Communist Country) have been seen as very unstable to the public because of the recent censorship. Without net neutrality, contents had the potential to be censored or modified as ISPs or the government sees fit. Net Neutrality defines the freedom to express oneself and view extremely cute cat videos on YouTube. Since the subject itself is not bound to a single purpose, the effects of the absence of Net Neutrality can be complicated globally. Net Neutrality has further major impact on the business market, especially causing discrimination dependent on identity, discriminating upon internet users, and global frustration.

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Big Corporations on Net Neutrality

If there's one thing that has not changed since the dawn of mankind, it would be greed. The Internet is a major hub for businesses all over the world to present their products and services without ever having to step out of their fancy buildings with the gargoyle statues. The economy has become ever so robust because of the invention of the Internet. If any laws of the internet that would prevent censorship ceased to function, small business owners would be too overwhelmed by the amount of economic pressure by bigger corporations (Free Press). Thus, in the minds of many small business owners with big dreams, the Internet has been a perfect place to start their goals. However, the major concern regarding such increases in small businesses is that they are viewed as competition by the bigger companies, such as Comcast.

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In the past, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), an independent group established that answers directly to Congress, was in charge of internet regulations. Then in 2007, one ISP, Comcast, was caught limiting the upload of a popular torrenting site, BitTorrent (Metz). They did it by sending a “dummy” packet that ultimately slowed down the rate at which users could upload content. Doing so, they claimed, was only “managing” the network. In truth, however, by limiting the upload rate of one user, another’s download rate suffers as well and Comcast knew this. Sadly, this limitation was completely legal by the FCC’s standards. From here on, the aforementioned “legal grey area” of net neutrality worsened. Comcast is a perfectly good example because in most rural areas in the United States of America, Comcast is known to be a monopoly or oligopoly (Clemmit 2006). One city in particular is Tallahassee, located in Florida. In one's own personal experience dealing with the monopolistic Comcast in Tallahassee, their control of services they provide is unshakeable, meaning no matter how mediocre their services are, Comcast is still the only internet service provider available there; aside from dial-up but that's like choosing between a poor life and death. But the effect of Comcast's wrath doesn't stop there, the company also provides television channels and movies by charging people for it of course, and it goes in competition with Netflix. Netflix is also a company allowing people to view a huge selection of movies and television shows through the internet by an affordable monthly payments. One of Netflix's main partner named the Level 3 Communication; which provides the streaming of Netflix's videos online, has called out Comcast on cutting down their competition with Comcast itself. (Stelter 2010) pointed out that Comcast have put a toll booth online on Netflix, similar to toll booth on the highways, to minimize their competition. Net Neutrality states that the internet traffic should be free of any interference by government regulations and internet service providers and what Comcast did here was manipulating the sources that they see as a threat to their profit. This act can be seen as discrimination against those that aren't deem "worthy" of any internet service providers, not just Comcast.
Comcast is not alone in their stance against Net Neutrality however, many other major phone and cable companies want the essence of Net Neutrality stricken down as well. The reason for such an absurd request is profit: profit, profit, profit. What Comcast, AOL, and other companies all want is to ensure that they achieve the highest profit by charging internet users, prioritizing who gets the fastest speeds and views the best content. In some cases, one can only shrug their shoulders and say, "What content?" The ability to hand-pick, in this case who gets the best service, will ultimately create the worst type of system that exists today: bribery. In the business world, it's common to see or hear of major companies buying out smaller companies with similar products so that they have as little competition as possible. Since the world today has a lot of free and open resources on the internet, available with a click of a button, opposing companies would be terrified of charging for products that are free to download, such as the ongoing battle over music downloading as one example.

Effects on the Economy

The absence of Net Neutrality would definitely have a devastating impact on the economy because big companies would further cut down competition and that's always a bad thing for the economy. However, Net Neutrality also affects them globally and usually ends up being censored depending on the contents. China, being a communist Country, has severely restricted its nations' Internet by a lot of government regulation. There are many factors contributing to the restriction, but one of the main ones was to ensure that there are no opposing views towards the government. Anything the government view as inappropriate to the country or threatening their authorities, one can count on the lucky bloggers to be put in jail or censored. International companies like Yahoo, have to deal with the laws of China personally, which states that the Chinese government can have Yahoo's content be regulated heavily. One such occasion occurred in China when Yahoo handed over the names of those who criticized the government and they ended up in jail for at least ten years (Clemmit 2006). The Internet is indeed a powerful tool that can be view as an economic growth or a censor machine to only present what the government wants it to present. (Clemmit) also reports that at the moment there are fifteen countries that threaten the users' freedom to explore the Internet. But what most of these countries have in common is the censorship of porn, which isn't very surprising. If Net Neutrality were to be enforced throughout countries that provide internet services, then the world would change dramatically. Not only would the average citizen be informed of the social and economic issues that arises from their country, but many new opportunities would also appear for us.

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Conclusion

Overall, the importance of Net Neutrality is a vital part of the Internet. It is essential for societies to utilize their maximum potential to the world. The human civilization went from trading sheep for shelter to earning currency for everything else, and now this new era of the Internet is, without a doubt, a new edition to the function of a society. Therefore, more people need to be informed about the purpose of Net Neutrality, that is to ensure a neutral internet usage that will sustain itself just like the economic free-market system. For a crisis like the discrimination against certain content by the internet service providers, the government should start regulating so that everyone gets a fair treatment towards the internet access. Only a mere suggestion to what could be done, the main internet regulation organization today is the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and their power to have a say in the Congress is very limited because of the recent budget cut by the Congress. Today, the FCC’s plan for Net Neutrality is practically crippled. Earlier this February, Congress passed an amendment cutting off all funding for its net neutrality program, which would prevent large corporations from limiting content or access, like Comcast had done in the past (Kang). With Congress at a 50/50 split in favor of the amendment, we have yet to see if the power is ultimately left in the hands of the government’s side - the FCC - or the side of large corporations like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. Whatever the outcome may be, the result will always be of the people if more and more of us become more aware of the issue: the neutrality of our Internet.

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