The Internet Debate: Should It Be Equal?

May 29, 2017 By Anita R
Anita R's picture

Imagine what would happen if a company that delivers electricity or water to our homes, decides to either block a connection or charge us more - just because we are at their mercy. That would not be fair, would it?

Laws have been in place to ensure that companies that connect us to the world do not abuse their powers.

In 2013, then U.S President Barack Obama had called on the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to create the "strongest possible rules" to protect the principle of "net neutrality" in the United States. Net Neutrality refers to the idea that all content on the internet - be it phone calls or data on the internet, should flow freely and equally without any intervention from service providers.

Under President Trump, the FCC has taken the first steps in backing away from net neutrality. And it is causing quite an uproar in the technology world. 

The Web Experience

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the agencies that actually provide us the pipe, connection or line to the World Wide Web. These could be phone operators like Verizon and AT&T, or cable operators such as Comcast and Time Warner.

Think of the internet like the highway system consisting of roads being maintained by the ISPs. The Government lays down the rules for internet traffic and regulates ISPs to ensure there is no favoritism and traffic flows smoothly. ISPs charge us a flat fee to access the internet. One basic rule, as the internet has developed in countries like the US, is the principle of openness or "Net Neutrality." All traffic that flows on the internet is treated as equal - be it data, voice, video, or email.

So, What Is The Issue?

We all know that some types of internet data such as videos hog more bandwidth. With thousands of folks watching Youtube videos and streaming movies through Netflix over the internet, ISPs have been unable to keep up with the data overload. They would prefer to charge these high users a higher service fee.

Besides, much of the internet infrastructure is outdated. But ISPs do not see the value of upgrading their networks, unless they can make a profit. Companies such as Verizon would like to see a tiered model - where users who pay more, get faster access to video content sites, compared to other customers.

A tiered Internet is of concern to many. It could mean valuable content websites like Youtube may be blocked along with chat rooms, Skype calls and Netflix. Imagine having to pay extra for each of these services! Those who cannot afford to pay more may be forced out of some websites - and this violates the principle of "Freedom of Speech."

Supporters of "net neutrality" also say that an open internet has promoted innovation and prevented ISPs from blocking lawful website, services and apps. While the debate rages, we want to know what you think.