What the Heck Is Net Neutrality?

net neutrality

What the Heck Is Net Neutrality?

You’ve probably heard newscasters, pundits, and others discuss “net neutrality” before—or at least allude to it—but many people have no idea what it is. Frankly, I don’t blame them. The way people typically communicate about net neutrality is often very unhelpful, but a co-worker of mine at The Heartland Institute, Research Fellow Jesse Hathaway, who writes about this topic a great deal, is one of the best communicators in the country on this topic, and one of his most recent descriptions, which appears below, I found to be particularly clear and worth your time.

The excerpts below come from an article Hathaway wrote titled “Reverse Obama’s Net-Neutrality Power Grab.” It was published by The American Conservative earlier in June:

The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) recent vote to begin the process of undoing an Obama-era power grab is the right solution for putting consumers—not lobbyists and lawmakers—in the innovation driver’s seat.

On May 18, FCC voted to begin the process of rolling back a 2015 policy in which FCC decided it possesses the legal authority under the Telecommunications Act of 1934 to regulate internet service providers (ISPs) using rules intended for phone companies. The rules, commonly referred to as “net neutrality,” were initiated by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who served under President Barack Obama. …

By getting government out of the business of telling ISPs how to run their servers, current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is working hard to undo net neutrality, putting consumers back in charge of how the internet—and the businesses responsible for building and maintaining the countless millions of internet connections and switches powering the internet—should operate.

Through the net-neutrality rules, in order to better control the internet, FCC put five unelected government regulators between consumers and internet service providers, drastically expanding FCC’s power. By regulating the internet as though it is a utility, such as an electric company or a water company, FCC inserted itself into the middle of the data transactions made between every recipient and sender, of every bit and byte.

The fight over net neutrality was never about digital egalitarianism, although that’s what its advocates continue to claim. Its purpose was to restrict consumers’ choices and prohibit something called “paid prioritization,” which hurts consumers in the name of helping them.

Paid prioritization is the technical term used to describe an agreement between a content provider and a network owner to allow the provider’s data to travel on less-congested routes in exchange for an agreed-upon fee.

When networks are clogged with data during high-traffic times, prioritization agreements allow consumers to receive requested data faster. Netflix and other high-volume content providers have already begun negotiating such deals.

Why does all this matter? In addition to being an unnecessary government intrusion into private industry, it’s possible under the rule that new taxes and fees could eventually be introduced, giving another way for the government to grab your hard-earned cash.

But there’s something else to be concerned about as well. The internet has long been one of the few parts of our society that has largely remained unregulated and uncontrolled. That’s a good thing. It is perhaps the “place” where freedom thrives best in all the world. If the government is able to regulate ISPs’ prioritization agreements, what’s next? Conservatives have been down this road before, and the last thing they want is greater government control over the internet.

Read more on this topic in Hathaway’s American Conservative article.

PHOTO: Photo provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA photo taken by Lance Cheung.