Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC would terminate the Obama era regulations on net neutrality, which is the idea that all data on the internet is equal and that it should be treated as such. This decision was met with intense backlash from politicians, members of the media and tech companies across the country. Hashtags and social media campaigns have even emerged with the predictable hyperbole. Some users and news sites are warning that a repeal of net neutrality would cripple the First Amendment and would bring the end to a free internet. Newsflash: It’s never been free. So which side is in the right here?
In theory, net neutrality is a nice idea. Internet service providers (ISP) shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate and favor some types of content and websites over others, right? Sure, but you’d be naive to think that content discrimination isn’t already occurring with several of the tech giants. The truth is not all data are equal, and companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google have played a large role in creating that reality. In fact, these companies regularly discriminate.
Former Facebook employees admitted to routinely suppressing conservative news websites that appeared under their trending tab. Google has been accused of the same tactics while also engaging in widespread demonetization of conservative videos. Twitter, which once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” has been accused of a long practice of banning and censoring popular conservative and libertarian thinkers on its platform.
As a free market capitalist, I believe these companies have a right to do this. While I vehemently disagree with their practices, I can’t stop them from trying to censor half of the country, which in any case will prove to be a horrible business model. What irks me more is the blatant hypocrisy being pushed by these companies. They pretend to be for a free and open internet while actively ensuring that it does not exist on their own platforms.
Critics of ending net neutrality argue that the internet will fall into the hands of a few powerful companies like Comcast and AT&T who could theoretically charge users more money for faster speeds and for visiting certain websites. While I acknowledge that this fear is legitimate, I don’t believe we will see a dramatic increase in prices if at all. The market will dictate what is offered and at what cost. Either way, why shouldn’t people and business be allowed to pay for faster speeds if that’s what they want? And why can’t ISPs offer that? Who is the government to tell them that they can’t? The ISPs that offer the best service at the best price will rule the marketplace.
The irony here is that the fears and complaints of net neutrality proponents describe the exact conditions that are currently in place: little competition and a handful of companies that regulate content on the internet. It’s rather difficult for me to take supporters of a free and open internet seriously when they’ve largely been silent on Silicon Valley censorship over the past few years. Do they mean to suggest it’s okay for the tech giants to censor but not the ISPs?
The only reason the tech giants are in favor of keeping net neutrality is because they’re afraid they’ll have to pay up without it. Facebook can and should pay for the number of users and traffic it has. Why should a website that has billions of users pay the same amount of money as a website that has hundreds of users? I’m sorry, but I won’t be shedding a tear for Mark Zuckerberg’s increased costs.
Despite all of these reasons, the best argument I can make against the net neutrality hysteria is the following: Do you remember the internet before 2014? That’s the world we’re looking at. The internet existed without net neutrality. It’ll survive without it.
Eduardo Neret is a UF finance senior. His column appears on Wednesdays.