Net Neutrality

Today, my website displays a banner to join the fight for an open internet. My message to the FCC follows.

The FCC’s Open Internet Rules (net neutrality rules) are extremely important to me. I urge you to protect them.

As a person who is not an American citizen, I was led to believe (perhaps wrongly) that America as a capitalist society would value the very principles that allow a free market to function, namely a free flow of information and healthy competition. It seems that I was mistaken.

The proposed changes to the FCC rules negatively impact both these principles. The internet is the epitome of a free flow of information, however misunderstood it may be amongst those who make laws. A free and open internet is one where all data is treated equal, and ISPs and cable companies cannot distinguish between any kind of traffic. They should not be allowed to create fast lanes or zero-rate some form of traffic.

The creation of fast lanes or zero-rating some traffic while charging for other forms of traffic goes against the spirit of free competition in the market. It means that no one could create the next Google or NetFlix unless they can get ISPs on board with their plan and provide their traffic with the same high speed or low cost. It means that ISPs will have ultimate control, not just of their own market (which, as I shall discuss next is a monopoly), but also of other markets far removed from the internet.

Today, almost everything runs on networked computers. Any system that must work across the width of a continent, or across multiple cities uses the internet in some way or the other to communicate information across. Even our phone lines are now increasingly routed over the internet, using VoIP technology. Our light bulbs and toaster ovens will soon use the internet as IoT becomes ubiquitous. So, support for net neutrality is not just a fight for the internet; absence of net neutrality and putting ISPs in position as gatekeeper would harm not just internet services, but could extend to the physical world as well, as the gap between physical and virtual worlds gets shorter and shorter. We must ask: what gives ISPs the right to decide what works and what doesn’t?

The sooner lawmakers realise this fundamental truth, the better. ISPs do not own the internet. They have not created the infrastructure for the internet. They have done nothing other than create a monopoly that taxes people to access a technology that was the product of taxpayer dollars and DARPA research.

Indeed, ISPs are a monopoly in the USA. Right now, if I want internet access, I have only one option, Time Warner, now called Spectrum. If I lived in Pittsburgh, I would have only one option, Comcast. Monopolies are antithetical to the free market. But I don’t need to tell you that. A capitalist society should balk at the very idea of a monopoly. Yet, lawmakers seem to accept and deny the very existence of these monopolies in almost all facets of American life, rather than fulfil their role as regulators and regulate the industries with monopolies to serve the very people who elect them into office and not the industry lobbyists who pay them money.

If my country – India – could enact strong net neutrality protections at a point in its history when ubiquitous internet access was (and is) still not widespread throughout the country, I’m surprised that the country that gave the world the free internet is now so eager to destroy it to serve the interests of a small group of cable companies that had nothing to do with the creation of the internet, and through sheer coincidence ended up controlling everyone’s access to taxpayer funded technology.


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