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Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast and AT&T, should give all consumers equal access to all available and legal content that is offered on the Internet. It prevents ISPs from blocking or favoring any content, and also from making money by providing better streaming options to content providers willing to pay top dollar for the best quality. Thanks to net neutrality, everyone delivering content to us consumers is on an equal playing field and we get access to all content so everyone wins, right? Well ever since net neutrality became the law, there have been opponents, which include the ISPs themselves and the new commissioner of the FCC, Ajit Pai. Their main argument is that net neutrality hinders ISP investment since they have no incentive to improve the quality of their streaming, as explained by Amy Nordrum in the IEEE Spectrum article. However, the latest US Census figures show that the total value of investments by wired, mobile, and satellite telecommunications carriers increased by over $1 billion from the year 2014 to 2015 alone (2014 is when the net neutrality laws took effect). The real reason ISPs have no incentive to invest in their own services is because these companies have monopolized the market. Companies such as Charter and Time Warner Cable, and also AT&T and DirecTV have merged to form market behemoths that not only create their own content but also can deliver to you through their own channels. This creates two major problems that are highlighted by Nilay Patel in his article in “The Verge” – first is that the number of existing ISPs is small and decreasing with each merger or takeover. The true reason these companies don’t invest in the quality of their streaming is because there is no viable alternative, seeing as the few other companies all provide relatively similar service for the same price. The other problem is the ISPs who are also service providers, such as Comcast who owns NBCUniversal. Without regulation, Comcast could deliver NBC content at peak speeds and leave Netflix with minimal remaining bandwidth. They could also charge outside content services more while giving their own content a unique advantage. The problems with ISPs exist regardless of net neutrality and these laws are only one step towards fixing this greater problem.

One way to solve this issue is to encourage cities to develop their own broadband networks. In theory, this would create more competition that would result in faster Internet service. This would require legal battles and a major cost overhead, but it is better than allowing the industry tycoons to have free reign. Net neutrality is necessary in our current situation to prevent ISPs from creating “fast” and “slow” lanes when streaming. We are already paying our ISPs and content providers directly, so there is no need for additional payment by both us consumers and content providers to the ISPs for essentially the same streaming quality. But without net neutrality that is what we will be victim to – a two-sided market where ISPs can equally extort both customers with essentially no resistance from the FCC or any pressure from other providers, who will all essentially follow suit. We cannot be so naive to trust ISPs to deliver top quality at a reasonable cost without any regulation placed upon them. That is the job of the FCC, and by removing them from the picture we are essentially making ourselves victim to a corrupt Internet experience.

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