What do the proposed changes to Internet net neutrality laws mean for you?

Since the birth of the Internet net neutrality governed that all data should be treated equally, regardless of its content or who created it. This meant that the Internet was essentially a level playing field allowing new and upcoming websites to replace old established ones. Facebook, for example, replaced Myspace as the most popular form of social media. New legislation with regards to the speed at which service providers send data, depending on the website you are accessing, has the potential to be very dangerous indeed. Activists and corporations alike have expressed growing concern that the end of Net Neutrality could have serious negative consequences.

The legislation – backed by key service providers in the United States such as Comcast and Verizon ¬– would allow major internet providers to charge a premium to cash flush businesses to make certain that the data from their website is given priority. For instance, YouTube could pay a premium to be guaranteed quality, speed and assurance of service by a service provider. Any start up competitor would have serious difficulty breaking into the market due to a lack of capital. Essentially these changes to net neutrality would allow big businesses to buy their way into the fast lane of the Internet, leaving everyone else in the slow lane.

The monopoly this could conceivably create would certainly be unhealthy. A Lack of competition leads to complacency and an inevitable drop in the standards of service delivery. By the same token; if Facebook is confident that no competitor would be able to compete with the “levy” they are paying for the ‘fast lane’ that they are enjoying, then they would have no interest in remaining innovative and relevant, or in producing the level of service currently demanded of them. The cable company benefits from the premium paid by Facebook and Facebook benefits from the assurance that they are untouchable, while the general public loses out because of the drop in standards of service delivery.

This change in legislation has the potential to let the Internet become fully dominated by a few corporations able to afford the premiums charged by service providers. It would no longer be the ‘free’ space in which anyone can theoretically make their name. This issue raises further fundamental questions about access to information and freedom of thought.

The Internet, which has become for so many people the primary method of communication, also represents a platform through which we can express our opinions, share our thoughts and further our cause. One needs only to look at the way in which activists used Twitter and Facebook during the Arab Spring, to understand the power of the free Internet. Activists in Egypt used social media to gather popular support for the movement to overthrow President Mubarak after almost thirty years of his military dictatorship. Twitter was such a powerful medium for activism that the government in Turkey banned it and blocked access to it. By ending Net Neutrality and effectively allowing service providers to become the gatekeepers of our access to the Internet, a dangerous precedent for further control of the Internet is set. Who is to say that government and the corporations will not restrict access to certain content in order to protect themselves?

Net Neutrality is an important principle that protects the freedom of the Internet and its users, and should be protected at all costs. Allowing corporations to monopolize the Internet and control the speed at which certain sites can access certain data will only ever result in negative consequences for the general public.

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