There are so many conflicting opinions of Net Neutrality on whether it is good or bad. Net Neutrality is a real dilemma as there are many pros and cons both real and imagined. There are many stakeholders to include Internet Service Providers (ISP) such as Comcast and AT&T, content providers (Netflix, Facebook, etc.), and the Public that uses these services. All these stakeholders have a vested interest in how much the Internet is regulated and controlled for whose best interest.
What is Net Neutrality?
To understand the Net Neutrality dilemma you need a definition. The short definition for net neutrality is the idea that everyone should have equal access to online content. The term was coined by a Columbia University professor Tim Wu in a 2003 paper about online discrimination. His position was that a public information network aspires to treat all content, sites and platforms equally. At the time some broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T were banning users from select activities such as accessing virtual private networks (VPNs) and using Wi-Fi routers. See Wired Guide to Net Neutrality and Iron Geek’s Ethical Analysis of Network Neutrality for more on the origins of the concept of Net Neutrality.
Why is Net Neutrality a Dilemma?
Basically, the term Net Neutrality couches the issue as either right or wrong when all options have both pros and cons based on your perspective and interests. Thus Net Neutrality is a dilemma.
Who are the Stakeholders in Net Neutrality Dilemma?
To better understand the Net Neutrality dilemma you need to know the stakeholders in this debate.
- Content Publishers / Providers. These are the likes of Google, Facebook, Netflix, and advertisers. They need the internet to publish their content to their users. They are generally in favor of net neutrality.
- Internet Telecom Providers. These are the likes of Comcast and AT&T who provide “the internet” by making major infrastructure investments. They are generally against net neutrality.
- The Public and the Government. The Public are the users that use the Internet infrastructure and consume internet content. Various stakeholders who represent the Public have mixed opinions of net neutrality with factors such as costs and internet performance and even misinformation from other stakeholders influencing others opinion.
What Are the Options When it Comes to the Net Neutrality Dilemma?
The real options in the Net Neutrality dilemma is really about how much regulation is placed on the Internet Service Providers (ISP). The options include:
- Absolute Net Neutrality. Complete Network Neutrality where all bits and bytes on the network are treated equally, no matter their purpose or destination.
- Limited Network Neutrality. This is Net Neutrality with exceptions such as ISPs being able to block malicious traffic as well as allowing businesses and public organizations to limit how the network they own is used, etc.
- Complete Free Market. This is where the ISP can set their rules, and the customers can decide which ISP to obtain service from.
See Iron Geek’s Ethical Analysis of Network Neutrality for more information on Net Neutrality options.
What are the Pros and Cons of Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality Pros.
- Free Speech. Prohibits ISPs from blocking content. This could also be a con in regard to objectionable content.
- Content Treated Equally. ISPs cannot change speed of internet or have different charges for select online content.
- Promotes Competition. Levels the playing field for new companies to compete (i.e. discourages monopolies).
- Universal Internet Access. Provides environment where most users and companies have equal access to the internet
Net Neutrality Cons.
- Unnecessary Regulations. The internet developed amazingly well without regulations.
- Burdensome Regulations. Overreaching regulations become a burden on ISPs, content providers, and even users
- Less Choice and Flexibility. Users and content providers lose the choice of paying for higher internet speeds and class of service
- Stifles Innovation and Investment. No incentive for ISPs to invest in infrastructure resulting in less access and higher costs.
For more information on the Dilemma with Net Neutrality see Inform’s The Dilemma of Net Neutrality, NCSL’s The Debate over Net Neutrality from a U.S. legislation perspective, BBN Times The Net Neutrality Debate Pros and Cons highlighting the moral aspect of the debate, Smithsonian Magazine’s How Other Countries Deal with Net Neutrality,
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