Net Neutrality. It’s well known as a controversial political football that does not line up neatly on party lines. The Obama Administration used the FCC to expand its interpretation of the Communications Act of 1934 to invoke the policy and regulate the internet like any other public utility. This stands in contradiction to Federal policy regarding the internet prior to 2015, where the government made a deliberate effort to avoid regulating the internet as it had the telecommunications industry, radio broadcast and television, both in network and cable form.
So what is net neutrality? It is a system requiring Internet Service Providers (hereinafter ISPs) to provide the same speed and bandwidth to websites regardless of their content. In this way, the only portions of the service that ISPs can change for the customer are the bandwidth and the upload and download speed in the package they pay for.
Allowing companies to only provide equal service based on those metrics seems on its face to be an unnecessary government intrusion in the market, but this is not the case. Net neutrality is the only realistic way to ensure fair treatment for both home users and websites under the current system of ISPs in the United States.
Under state and local regulations, broadband providers, such as Comcast in Minnesota, operate as local monopolies, giving consumers little to no choice about internet provision in their area. While services such as CenturyLink overlap with Comcast in this area, they do not qualify as broadband, as their top download speed is below 25 megabytes per second. Net neutrality helps to prevent cable companies from raising prices without warning and requires them to disclose why every part of every price is being charged to the consumer.
While I am not normally in favor of much, if any, government regulation in the market, monopolies are by their very nature creatures who oppose the market and all the good it brings us. Competition is necessary for the natural functioning of any market or service, or at least necessary for we as consumers to reap the benefits. Monopolies oppose this, using rent-seeking regulations to secure unchallenged dominance over their customer base. Instead of competing and providing good service to their customers, Comcast and companies like it consistently rank as the worst companies for customer satisfaction and customer service.
Net neutrality is hardly the optimal condition of existence. Optimally, local and state governments would allow and incentivize competition by breaking up cable monopolies where they exist, particularly when those same monopolies simultaneously serve as the main ISP in the area. Unchallenged dominance in the market breeds complacency and may not provide the large capital investments these corporations cite as the reasons behind their monopoly.
It would be good to force monopolies to reveal their pricing structures, to provide a higher quality of service, and to treat website traffic equally. The point of the internet is access to the whole internet, not simply segments based upon what one pays to the ISP. The open accessibility of the internet is something we demand as consumers, but under monopolies, what we demand as consumers is not always what we receive.
We must, for this reason, strive to protect net neutrality from those who seek to undo it. If the government refuses to work to implement anti-monopoly rules, it must enforce regulations to ensure that the internet remains open for all to enjoy, instead of being carved up along the volatile preference of ISPs.