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Arguments for Net Neutrality Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Information Technology
Wordcount: 1818 words Published: 19th Apr 2021

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The history of net neutrality is turbulent, and the law surrounding it has been changing every few years since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed. Now more than ever is net neutrality a topic for debate following controversial events of the 2017 repeal of the FCC’s classification of ISPs under Title II regulation. Those who argue for net neutrality regulations claim that neutrality protects freedoms on the internet and increases competition to give consumers a choice for what ISP they use, while opponents of regulation claim that regulation makes providing internet service too expensive thus hurting the economy and make expansion of internet networks too expensive. Although net neutrality may reduce the profits of service providers, regulation of the internet ensures that internet users have the same freedoms online as they do in public, that all ISPs, new and old, have equal opportunity on the market, and that consumers are protected from high rates and harmful business practices.

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 One of the three characteristics of a successful internet is the nonpreference of data packets sent throughout the network (Bailey & Charles, 2006). Net neutrality is the implementation of this idea of nonpreference wherein all internet users are guaranteed indiscriminate access to content on the internet in addition to to the freedom to use any devices or services they wish to on their network of choice and transparency from their network provider about how the network is managed. In short, under net neutrality ISPs must allow equal access to all edge providers and inform consumers how their network is managed as proof of their nondiscrimination. Since transparency forces ISPs to disclose where their services are being used and managed, transparency doubles both as a way to make companies self report themselves to the FCC and as a way to protect consumers from lies about network structure (Reicher, 2011). The idea of equal access is better known as the end-to-end principle, which states that in an ideal network, there should be no interference between the source and destination of data traveling across a network, thus allowing perfect competition between users to access services (Reicher, 2011). End-to-end principle is, however, infeasible because surges of internet traffic towards the same destination could overload parts of the network and make services slower for everyone, or even fail. As a result of this inevitability, the FCC’s general conduct rule to uphold net neutrality on a case by case basis would allow for network administrators to throttle or block connections to keep the network functional (Hollis, 2017). The aforementioned general conduct rule holds that broadband providers must not unreasonably interfere with users’ ability to use lawful internet services and access to lawful edge providers, meaning that ISPs are allowed to at least restrict access to illegal or high-traffic services (Hollis, 2017).

 Net neutrality would only be important if ISP’s actually had a reason to restrict access to online services. Broadband providers can be considered gatekeepers who have the ability to restrict content access since they have control over their entire network (Hollis, 2017). One critical type of restriction is called zero-rating: the exclusion of certain traffic from consumers’ data plans alongside the improvement of access to the provider’s own content, similar to free unlimited usage in cellular data plans (Hollis, 2017). Since zero-rating is unappealing to most consumers, it does not work as an effective marketing strategy in competitive, transparent markets, but this is not the case with ISPs. According to Reicher (2011), the FCC reported that in 2011 half of Americans only had two choices of ISPs, giving many of America’s ISPs natural monopolies.  Natural monopolies can use unordinary market practices to crush their competition by charging exceedingly low prices for high bandwidth internet access that their competition simply cannot achieve thanks to the low marginal costs of natural monopolies (Hollis, 2017).

 Zero-rating is protected by net neutrality because it discriminates against data packets on the basis of their destination, but in an America without enforcement, broadband provides could abuse zero-rating to increase the size of their shares in the goods and services on their networks. Not only could ISPs do this, but they do in fact do this. Many broadband providers are vertically integrated to cover all parts of the telecommunications industry, from cable television to cellular data plans and internet access plans (Reicher, 2011). This creates a situation where broadband providers deeply entrench themselves in a region and become impervious to competition because they make so much profit off of their partner businesses and vertically integrated components of their company. If net neutrality were left unregulated, broadband providers would eventually, if they do not already, use zero rating to crush competing broadband providers.

 The issue of non-competition without net neutrality is of a far greater scope than just the broadband providers themselves, for it also affects how other businesses compete with one another. According to Cook (2014), well established companies with connections to local broadband providers are able to obtain premium, unfiltered service while start-ups and small businesses will face higher costs for the worse service. Bailey and Charles (2006) claim that “unwealthy users… [are] forced into the slow lane,” and “new services starting in the slow lane wouldn’t have a chance against entrenched players in the fast lane,” meaning that without regulation that increases competition, start-ups will be fighting an uphill battle against incumbent businesses associated with the local broadband provider. One component of net neutrality that will help bring competition back to markets more than any other is transparency. Transparency creates honest competition for broadband services and their associates (Reicher, 2011). ISPs can - and will - disrupt natural competition between businesses in the American economy for their own self benefit and to consumers’ detriment without the transparency and non-discrimination measures of net neutrality.

Monopolies cause one other problem: extravagant rates for people who need their service. Organizations that run massive online databanks like international repositories and libraries need fast and reliable internet, so their local ISP can charge them as much as they like for that internet connection. Cook (2014) reported that the ALA believes entertainment will take priority of education websites without net neutrality because entertainment is far more profitable and takes up more total bandwidth than education. Net neutrality prevents broadband providers from discriminating against internet traffic on the basis of its source, so it would prevent ISPs from considering discriminating rates on the owners of massive repositories (Hollis, 2017).

Net neutrality protects ordinary consumers of education too. Net neutrality ensures that libraries will not have to pay higher fees for reliable internet as well as schools (Cook, 2014). Reliable access is especially important to educators because teachers and students alike need to be able to reliably access all varieties of edge providers and online services to access resources important for education or for research (Cook, 2014). Unfortunately, if the ALA is right in fearing that entertainment will take priority over education, then educators and students may find that websites that were once critical to their education are inaccessible or slow due to a low concentration of network services outside of entertainment and associated services. Perhaps education could go on smoothly with restricted internet access, but poor students would find themselves unable to learn effectively. Therefore unequal distribution of network resources puts certain groups of people at an unfair disadvantage from others..

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At its core, net neutrality ensures equality in the digital world, because there are plenty of politicians willing to exploit ISPs - as well as unexploited politically charged ISPs - to promote their ideology. Reicher (2011) claims that if certain views are throttled online, users may choose to use other sources with different views. Therefore it is not unimaginable for an ISP to use its gatekeeper power to restrict the freedom of speech and expression for the promotion of its views.

ISPs are also able to restrict innovation in the industry. In the previously mentioned Madison River case, Madison River was blocking services from Vonage, a fairly new company at the time, on their network (Reicher, 2011). Vonage’s service was a new technology, Voice over IP, that allowed people to talk to each other over the internet instead of a phone. VoIP threatened Madison River’s grip on telecommunications, so they blocked it. Had the FCC not intervened and other telecommunications companies acted with Madison River, VoIP may have never survived to power modern communication. The internet fosters an enormous amount of technological innovation, but a lack of net neutrality threatens to destabilize that ability..

 Although little empirical data exists to support net neutrality, and that which does is questionable, it can be reasonably assumed that without net neutrality in the U.S. there will inevitably be breaches of freedom, damages to consumer choice, and disruption of competition. Broadband is already such a small market that competition is a major issue and net neutrality regulations promise to solve the issue. Net neutrality can only do good with negligible harm and ought to be enforced as a means of equality. A competitive economy with consumer choice and the ability to freely learn and create lies in the enforcement of net neutrality.


  • Bailey Jr., Charles W. (2006). Strong copyright + DRM + weak net neutrality = digital dystopia?. Information Technology & Libraries, 25, 116-139.
  • Cook, V. S. (2014). Net neutrality: what is it and why should educators care?. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 80, 46-49.
  • Gregory, P. (2015). Net neutrality is techno socialism. Institute of Public Affairs Review, 67, 32-35.
  • Hollis, J. A. (2017). Testing the bounds of net neutrality with zero-rating practices. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, 32, 591-620.
  • Reicher A. (2011). Redefining net neutrality after Comcast v. FCC. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, 26, 733-763.
  • Weisman, D. L., Kulick, R. B. (2010). Price discrimination, two-sided markets, and net neutrality regulation. Tulane Journal of Technology & Intellectual Property, 13, 81-102.


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