I have heard the term “net neutrality” many times but never fully understood what it represented. For readers in the same boat as I was, net neutrality is the idea that companies which provide consumers with access/connection to the internet should not discriminate based on the sites we choose to visit. The clearest example, in my opinion, is a hypothetical situation where Comcast limits Xfinity wifi subscribers’ connection to content providers like Netflix who compete with the Comcast subsidiary, NBCUniversal. This example really brought me back to the days where my big brother would keep a toy from me simply because he didn’t want me to have it. Obviously, that is just not cool, but should my parents (the FCC of my analogy) have established a rule that my brother could no longer do that? Or, would it have been more effective to have provided me access to a bunch of other toys providing the same function, thus making my brother’s actions harmful only to himself resulting in an unhappy brother (consumer) who could just switch to another toy and be content?
I have always been a defender of capitalism and I am typically not in favor of big government, so I prefer the latter scenario. While I support the idea and noble intentions of the FCC’s attempts to enforce net neutrality, I agree with Jeffrey Dorman’s point of view that more choices would be more effective than more regulations. A rule stating “don’t do that” will not be any more effective in preventing Comcast from justifying its actions than my parents scolding my brother for withholding toys. One thing that will certainly stop Comcast from being selfish is the loss of customers. I think I can speak for most consumers and say that when faced with the decision between two Internet Service Providers (ISPs), if my ISP noticeably restricts my Netflix (or comparable content provider) stream quality and a competitor exists that would not, then you can count on me to switch providers. I think there exists an attraction to creating legislation which explicitly says a company cannot do something because the document can be held and referenced. However, I believe the less attractive option of letting natural laws of capitalism take over would be much more effective.
Supporting my belief are the weaknesses of the Open Internet Order highlighted in an article published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “Why the FCC Can’t Actually Save Net Neutrality.” To start, the FCC claims to have ancillary authority which may seem fine for now, but what happens when they decide to enforce policies that are not as widely accepted as net neutrality? Also, the law included exceptions which enables the FCC to cooperate with law enforcement agencies upon request. I find this troubling that a federal organization can bypass its own order if a request is made by a different federal organization. Finally, how can the public check the power of the FCC that has proclaimed ancillary authority over the internet? Consumers would then be faced with powerful media conglomerates that act as ISPs and a federal regulatory agency that proceeds unchecked by the public.
To conclude, I would like to acknowledge that I do not believe there is a straightforward solution to the enforcement of net neutrality. Also, I consider myself a defender of net neutrality, but I do not agree with the current strategies in place to protect this idea. I believe that competition is the best way to ensure providers are held accountable for their decisions and consumers are positioned to find the best available package to fit their needs.