On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will decide the future of the internet.
On that day, the FCC will rule on whether or not to repeal net neutrality rules, a set of regulations currently in place that are designed to keep the flow of information on the internet unbiased in favor of any party. Collectively, these rules enshrine what might be considered a founding principle of the internet: that all data on the internet should be treated equally.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has already indicated that he wants to get rid of net neutrality and has submitted a plan to do so. Major internet service providers (ISPs) in the U.S. - including Comcast and Verizon, where Pai previously worked as a lawyer - have argued that net neutrality regulations are an unnecessary burden on ISPs. But ordinary citizens, tech companies, and city mayors across America believe that net neutrality is crucial to the health of the economy – and democracy.
Net neutrality regulations were put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 and have been the subject of controversy ever since.
Proponents of net neutrality say that the rules prevent ISPs from dividing the internet into a hierarchy of ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ lanes, which would allow ISPs to charge fees to those who want access to faster lanes – for example, major corporations that want their websites to load faster, or banks that want their transactions processed first. Supporters of net neutrality say this would allow those with deep pockets to make sure their interests are prioritized on the internet.
Chattanooga, Tenn. has become a hub for small tech companies that benefit from net neutrality. (Source: techincal.ly)
How Would a Repeal of Net Neutrality Affect Small Business?
While ISPs have denied that they would institute “fast lanes” if net neutrality is repealed, some top executives have already said they would consider offering this type of premium access in the absence of regulation. Net neutrality supporters argue that paid internet fast lanes would cripple the ability of small businesses to compete online, allowing major corporations – many of whom produce their own media content – to dominate the flow of commerce and information across the internet.
City mayors are among the most prominent groups in the U.S. fighting to keep net neutrality. Andy Berke, mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, noted that his city, which invested in its own fiber-optic internet network in 2010, would suffer if net neutrality were repealed.
“Chattanooga has a burgeoning tech culture,” Berke told Governing.com. “Our tech community is growing [and] we have one of the highest wage growths in the country… There needs to be a free and open internet so we can compete with the giants in the city.”
Another organization that supports net neutrality is Fight for the Future, a non-profit that is committed to ensuring that the internet “continues to hold freedom of expression and creativity at its core”.
“Small businesses, startups, and creative online projects are the most likely to be censored, stuck in a slow lane, or shaken down for extra fees by cable companies,” if net neutrality is repealed, said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, in an interview with CNN.
Greer says that “It makes perfect sense that they are the ones leading this charge” against the FCC’s plan to repeal net neutrality.
While there are valid arguments on both sides of the net neutrality debate, the available evidence indicates that net neutrality has been a net positive for economic growth and democratic participation. Taking away the protections that keep the internet’s handling of data unbiased could negatively impact small business and quiet voices that can’t afford to compete with corporate power.
Nathan Munn | BidNet.com