Saving Net Neutrality

Co-authored by Theodore Andrew Lee

We live in an age where we have become dependent on the Internet. Most people check the Internet before going to bed and in the morning. Whether it is to see their emails, check the weather, read the news or just search for their latest interest, we have come to rely on the Internet and to have the same expectations of reliable service as they do for our gas, water, and electricity.

How did we come to this point and what are the challenges that exist because of this reliance on the Internet, which has replaced our newspapers, bookstores, our telephones, and has almost come to replace our television? At this point of high dependency, there is much debate about net neutrality and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

If we think back to the beginning, the Internet was founded on the principle of non-discrimination - that all content would be accessible despite the source or ownership and that every Internet service should do its best to satisfy its customers.

This principle, known as net neutrality, allows everyone to go anywhere they want on the Internet without being inhibited (e.g. blocked from accessing certain websites). Net neutrality preserves a free and open Internet; it also allows small companies to compete for Internet users on the same terms as larger companies. The freedom of Internet companies to compete has boosted America's economy and led to technological advancements.

In today's broadband market there often isn't any true competition between the large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and as a result consumers and innovators cannot choose between these ISPs. Many of these large corporations are trying to get rid of net neutrality: they wish to operate as monopolies and control all the pricing power over the Internet and cable services that they offer to their customers. Should that happen, not only could these ISPs control the market prices, they could collectively lower their Internet quality with consumers forced to stay with them. In the absence of net neutrality, these companies could operate their networks in ways that would leave customers unsatisfied and undermine online innovation. To preserve the equality of the Internet and to satisfy its users, net neutrality must be defended.

Major ISPs want to replace the traditional Internet "open lane" system with a "two lane" system that scans data content and allocates the traffic to its designated lanes. This "two lane treatment" offers users a "fast lane" and "slow lane". Because the "fast lane" will cost more; only wealthy companies and individuals would have access to the higher speeds while companies and people with less disposable income would be restricted to the slower speeds. This new system will inhibit smaller companies (both ISPs and internet reliant companies) to start up and violates the foundations on which the Internet was created. For example, Netflix or Amazon could pay extra money to allow their customers a faster Internet than any other video browsing site. At the same time, smaller ISPs will not be able to offer this "two lane" system that many large companies want and so these smaller ISPs will slowly lose customers. Thus only large companies will increase market share.

Comcast, America's biggest Internet service provider, is also the country's largest cable company. There is talk that Time Warner Cable, the country's second largest cable company, will merge with Comcast. This combined corporation would then provide Internet and cable to 40% of American homes. These powerful ISPs, along with one or two others, such as Verizon and RCN, will essentially control the Internet and everything that uses it. Without any competition between ISPs, companies can control the prices and quality of the Internet they provide. Some ISPs already have a monopoly in some specific markets areas. They control the entire market and instead of spending money to generate faster speeds they can simply keep the speeds the same and increase the prices. This is statistically shown in that the U.S ranks 31 in the top Internet download speeds of the world with 20.77 mBps (mega-bytes per second). Even worse, it ranks 41 in the upload speed with 6.31 Mbps.

As a global superpower in the information age, it is surprising to note that the United States barely manages to compete with other countries in terms of Internet speeds. The leader in connection speed is South Korea, which has Internet speeds 50 times faster than the American average of 8.7 mBps. J.C. Kessels, "Download Time Calculator" says on average, in Korea it would take 2 hours to download 1 Gb while in the U.S it would take about 9 hours. Korea recently hit a milestone where they introduced 10 Gbps speeds; with this speed a 1 Gb file would be downloaded in 0.8 seconds.

Korean Internet speeds are significantly faster than the American speeds because there is more competition in the Korean broadband market place. The Korean government views connectivity as one of its top priorities. It encourages citizens to use the Internet and establishes regulations to defend net neutrality and maintain a highly competitive market. As a result, Internet speeds increase and the prices decrease in South Korea.

Conversely, there are several countries, such as China, where the government restricts and regulates. Some of the limitations include blocked access to a list of sites banned by the government, specific search terms will cause you to be blocked from the search engine for 90 seconds, and lists of words and topics given to Chinese ISPs with the order to take down pages that include those words. The government also pays people to post pro-government messages on social networks and blogs and to defend their superiority. The Chinese government employs thousands of people to police the Internet. If net neutrality were to be disbanded in the United Sates, the Internet will not be restricted in such a drastic way, but we will likely experience the blocking of certain sites and ISPs being in the control of, and in collaboration with, the government.

Those who are aware of potential perils of net neutrality are actively protesting. During April 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) website allowed users to debate about net neutrality. After the thread closed, the number of comments was more than 4 million, a new record for the site.

Additionally, on September 10th 2014, several Internet companies participated in an Internet Slow-Down Day. This Slow-Down Day simulated the Internet quality if this "two lane" system were to be enacted. Websites such as Reddit, Google, WordPress, Vimeo, and many others participated in this event. The poor quality of Internet caused havoc: over 1,000 calls were made per minute and over 2 million emails were sent to Congress complaining about these Internet speeds.

The Internet was founded on the principle of net neutrality - that all content is accessible at the same rate, despite the source or ownership, and that every Internet service should do its best to satisfy its customers. With net neutrality enacted, competition between small and large companies should be close, however in today's broadband market there isn't any true competition between Internet service providers (ISPs). Many ISPs operate as monopolies and control all the pricing power over the Internet and cable services that they offer to their customers. In order to preserve the equality of the Internet and to satisfy its users, net neutrality must be defended.

Theodore Andrew Lee is a junior at Liberty High School, Bethlehem Pa. Theo is the captain of the Junior Varsity Soccer Team and co-founder of the Robotics Club. He is interested in Robotics, Science and Writing.

Follow Theodore Andrew Lee on twitter