Editor’s Note: For an alternative viewpoint, please see: Point: Net Neutrality Bad for Consumers
Network neutrality rules are needed to protect individuals against cable companies and other giant internet service providers (ISPs) that want to put their own profits ahead of the public interest in a free and open internet where anybody can communicate and compete on an equal playing field. They want network neutrality protections removed so they can tilt the rules of the game in their own favor, and in favor of other giant internet companies that have the deep pockets to pay them for special treatment online.
Network neutrality prohibits ISPs from discriminating against information by halting, slowing or otherwise tampering with the transfer of any data (other than for legitimate network management purposes).
Although the internet is relatively new, we have many generations of experience with similar public platforms and networks showing that such protections are vital if the interests of the little guy are to be protected against big companies salivating at the prospect of wringing more money out of us. These protections are called “common carrier rules.”
Common carrier rules have been around for hundreds of years, and they evolved based on long experience. Previous generations found the owners of facilities that are crucial to economic prosperity, including canal systems, railroads, public highways, and telegraph and telephone networks tended to engage in certain abuses unless protections were in place for ordinary people.
Without common carrier rules, for example, the railroads — the giant companies of their day — ripped off farmers by manipulating the rates that they charged them to ship their crops to market. They could play favorites in the agricultural markets, giving some farmers cheap shipping and gouging others, distorting those markets and increasing prices for everyone. The reason these protections were put in place is that railroads were not just another industry; they were an industry that all other industries relied upon.
Today the internet sits in the same position. Let’s say you want to visit a travel site to book your vacation. There are a lot of travel sites to choose from. Do you want to pick one that you find is easiest to use and offers the best service and prices, or do you want to be forced to use a particular site because it is the only one that can afford to pay off Comcast and Verizon, while more fresh and innovative upstart sites are too slow to load because the ISPs move their data over the internet much more slowly?
Network neutrality protections are good not only for consumers, they’re also vital to ensure competition and innovation in all the tens of thousands of competitive marketplaces that depend on an even playing field — like travel services. They are also vital to ensure that everyone can communicate without interference by those who run the communications network.
By voting to allow ISPs to sell our browsing histories, Congress has already acted once to put the interests of a tiny handful of giant internet companies ahead of the interests of regular people. Unfortunately President Trump, who should have vetoed that measure, instead signed it. Let’s hope that President Trump and his appointees on the Federal Communications Commission don’t sell regular people out again.