As the debate rages on in the US over whether or not the FCC should save the Internet or go ahead with the vote, some who are opposed to saving the Internet seem to have a hard time grasping the basics of the debate.
This Thursday, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is scheduled to hold a vote. The vote will decide whether the FCC should save the Internet or scrap the rules protecting its open nature. As of now, network neutrality rules in place help protect the open Internet market. Granted it has its flaws today, very few are willing to believe leaving this in the hands of major ISPs is an answer to increase competition. Still, those that oppose the open Internet are still trying to convince Americans that scrapping the open Internet is the way to go.
It appears some, however, are having a difficult time understanding what network neutrality even is. Writing for a pro-Trump website, one blogger seems to take issue with policies enforced by some websites. While it is a rather lengthy piece, Zach Graves piece can be distilled down into a few key points.
Graves seems to make the argument that there is reason to believe scrapping network neutrality is the way to go. He thinks that network neutrality is merely a free speech issue and little else. He went on to attack certain websites for taking down content that is more than likely against website policy (such as hate speech for instance). Because of this, Graves feels that these websites don’t conform to the believes of free speech. Therefor, they don’t believe in network neutrality when it comes to their sites. As a result, they can’t be trusted on their stance for network neutrality. Therefore, we should scrap network neutrality.
This is far from the first time we’ve seen those who oppose the open Internet make these kinds of assertions. The common reasoning these arguments are is that because websites take down content on their service, they don’t support network neutrality and are therefor hypocritical on their stance.
The problem with this stance is that this is not what network neutrality actually is.
Network neutrality is how ISPs treat packets of information flowing through their network. In a non-neutral network, ISPs can drop or slow down what packets they choose and prioritize which ones they wish. In a neutral network, all packets are treated equally. So, if you access Twitter, the packets that go back and forth are treated the same as an ISP sponsored service. In a nutshell from the users perspective, that’s what network neutrality is.
Now, what some people are talking about when it comes to taking down content is often referred to as website policy or a code of conduct enforcement. If someone posts hate speech on a website, that website may have rules against it. As such, they are well within their rights to take that content down.
The critical difference here is that, under a neutral network, someone can find web hosting, register a domain, and post all the hate speech they want. Most people would disagree with the content for obvious reasons, but under a neutral network, such a thing can take place.
Now, under a non-neutral network, there may not even be that website to complain about in the first place. Instead, ISPs would be permitted to discriminate against said website and basically drive it out of business. Will such a thing happen? That would then be up to the ISPs because there would be no rules to stop them from doing so. Additionally, starting up your own website with your own rules wouldn’t be an option because people may not be able to access it.
Whether or not the confusion is being made accidentally or intentionally is up in the air. It also likely depends on who is advancing this theory in the first place. Either way, every time we’ve seen this argument pushed, it typically takes two separate and incompatible issues and melds it into one. It’s also arguments like these that help make people who support the open Internet skeptical about the positions of the few on the other side.
If there are valid positions against the open Internet, this isn’t one of them.