By Sam Schaefer
Imagine if Mark Zuckerberg had never been able to launch Facebook to an eager audience, if Youtube was unable to provide a platform for millions to watch and upload videos, or if Wikipedia wasn’t available as a go-to source for basic knowledge of any topic. Innovations like these ─ driven by young experimenters like us ─ may no longer have a chance to succeed. On August 5, Google and Verizon unveiled a “policy framework” that threatens the idea of Net Neutrality. If Google and Verizon get their way, and if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency that regulates media, does not do anything to stop them, it could change the Internet as we know it by putting it into the hands of big business, depriving younger generations from contributing to its development.
Net Neutrality is the idea that there should be no restrictions by governments or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on content, web sites, platforms, kinds of equipment used, and on modes of communication allowed; a lack of restrictions creating a level playing field for the Internet. If complying with Net Neutrality, ISPs would not be allowed to tamper with speeds of content. For example, they would not be allowed to speed access to an online shopping site like Amazon faster than to your friend’s blog. Speed of content would be decided entirely by how much bandwidth, or capacity of online information, providers of content bought. ISPs would act as an impartial means of accessing content, and are supposed to have no part in deciding what content users access or how quickly they access it. While this is how the Internet currently works, things are changing.
Google and Verizon have decided that, Verizon, a wireless ISP, can direct content to users more quickly if the owners of that content pay Verizon for the privilege. Additionally, Verizon could theoretically block content and applications if rivals of that content and those applications pay enough money to Verizon to do so. Craig Aaron, senior program director of the national media reform group Free Press, pointed out flaws in eliminating Net Neutrality in an editorial on Huffington Post. According to him, if not for Net Neutrality, Windows’ media player could have imposed a monopoly on video content, meaning that we would never have had access to the upstart Youtube, a superior product. The ability to direct and speed access to content could effectively put the Internet entirely into the hands of big business. Only corporations have enough money to pay ISPs to speed users to their content, severely threatening competition on the Internet. Corporations that pay enough money have the ability to completely monopolize the Internet.
The Internet is a revolutionary tool because anyone can use it to say or create anything they want; it provides a means for anyone with an idea, good or bad, to publicize it, possibly benefitting many. Eliminating Net Neutrality threatens to take this opportunity away. Web sites like Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and, ironically enough, Google, may have never have had a chance if it had not been for Net Neutrality. Instead, big businesses would have been able to push their own, and quite possibly inferior, products over upstart web sites like those, meaning great strides in technological advancement could not have happened. This change in policy could also affect younger generations, preventing them from creating whatever the new Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, or Google might be, instead putting the Internet’s future entirely in the hands of large corporations.
Even worse, a federal judge ruled in April of this year that the FCC does not have the power to maintain Net Neutrality. The only hope for FCC regulation, and consequently the future of Net Neutrality, is if the FCC reclassifies broadband as a communications service under Title III of the Telecommunications Act. Until then, however, the Internet is not classified as anything the FCC can regulate.
Google’s unofficial slogan, “Don’t Be Evil,” has become glaringly ironic because of Google and Verizon’s actions threatening one of the sacred tenets of the Internet. If Google and Verizon succeed, it could ruin the future of the Internet for generations to come and thwart the next generation of youthful innovators.