The idea of net neutrality is the belief that internet service providers (ISP’s) treat all transmission of data over the internet equally, and not discriminate, weaken, slow down or change the use of data based on user, content, website, platform, message, application, type of equipment, or method of communication. Under net neutrality rules, an ISP may not block or charge more money for specific online content, with the purpose of ensuring that businesses compete freely and fairly on the internet without having users pay ‘gatekeeper tolls’ for better, faster, content. Net neutrality promotes competition and innovation for ISP’s, as each must compete with one another to provide better content, quicker access and faster downloads than their competitors. Net neutrality allows for the freedom of the flow of information on the internet without placing barriers and roadblocks on specific content for certain users.
The issue of net neutrality comes down to how we view the internet; who the internet is for; and the purpose of the internet overall as we head further towards technological and social revolution in this complex digital world. Do we view internet as a privilege where only a certain wealthy or higher class segment of the population may benefit? Or do we view the internet as a public utility, like gas, water, telephone, public roads, electricity? In which case, all Americans may receive fair and equal access.
In the future, without net neutrality, some ISP’s may charge prices for certain content on websites that some internet users cannot afford. That information still exists for others with more wealth to access and may contain important information for the entire population to know and understand. But without net neutrality, the poorer population may be unable to access that information, which may create a digital information-knowledge gap between the wealthy that have the resources to pay for certain online content and the poor, who do not possess the funds to participate in that knowledge acquisition.
The current government administration repealed net neutrality on December 14, 2017; the internet without net neutrality went into full effect on June 11, 2018. Not enough time has elapsed for there to be any major, noticeable changes in the content of what people view and the speed at which they receive that content, but the further that the country moves ahead without net neutrality protection, the greater likelihood that ISP’s will begin to favor content from more established websites with larger user bases that are willing to pay more for content.
Without net neutrality, ISP’s can charge more to browse certain sites; charge more for sites from competitors or from sites with a critical message against that particular ISP (or some other message that they or their advertisers do not agree with). ISP’s may charge less to companies that pay them more fees for access. Smaller voices are lost with slower speeds while larger companies with more money and resources rise to the top, creating a hierarchy of content access and, over time, a hierarchy of free speech, where less established websites, lesser known individuals and smaller companies are prevented from participating in the digital information and knowledge acquisition game.