Nearly a decade ago, Net Neutrality seemed to be one of the most important concepts guiding the future development of the internet. As a principle, Net Neutrality states that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all online traffic equality, without blocking or throttling content. The goal is simple: to keep the internet a vibrant, diverse place where small content creators and individual users can be on equal footing with the largest companies in the world.
Why is nobody talking about Net Neutrality anymore?
Today, however, the concept of Net Neutrality seems to have dropped off the radar of just about everyone. Gone are the days when people were giving TED Talks about Net Neutrality, or when being able to explain the concept simply and succinctly made you an internet superstar.
In fact, the topic of Net Neutrality hasn’t been discussed much since 2017, when members of the Trump Administration started making it a matter of policy to limit the power of the federal government. As they saw it, the goal should be to remove many of the laws and regulations clogging up the business world. Back then, the FCC had a Republican majority, and to the great outcry of just about everyone, it rolled back Net Neutrality. The FCC saw it as just another misguided attempt by the government to force the private sector to act in a certain way.
Now, six years later, there are signs of a revival for Net Neutrality. The Biden Administration is in power now, and as a matter of policy, it has sought to undo everything the Trump Administration did. So, as might be expected, that means revisiting the concept of Net Neutrality. Democrats now hold a slim majority within the FCC, and that means they can control the direction of what happens next. And so they are reopening the topic. The next step is to get public commentary on Net Neutrality, and to use that feedback to help shape new rules.
But does Net Neutrality even matter anymore?
Rolling back Net Neutrality back in 2017 was supposed to usher in the internet apocalypse, but guess what? The internet seems to work just fine right now. And that’s a point being made by Republicans. As they see it, Net Neutrality is a solution in search of a problem. And, right now, that problem does not exist. Say what you will about a pro-business approach to the internet, but it really does work. Companies are competitive, and there’s nobody complaining about getting “throttled” online because they’re not shelling out the big bucks to ISPs.
In fact, one could argue that there is a far more dangerous form of “throttling” taking place online, and it has nothing to do with internet speed. Instead, it has to do with free speech, censorship, and shadow banning. Thus, giving the government yet one more tool to influence Silicon Valley might actually make things worse. Moreover, any new legislation would mean re-classifying the big ISPs as “public utilities” as defined by the Communications Act of 1934. Yes, that’s right, it relies on interpreting a nearly 100-year-old piece of legislation from an era when the internet didn’t exist. This view of ISPs as “public utilities” seems very outdated.
What to look for next?
Looking ahead, be prepared to hear more about the “open internet” and the need to get the government involved with “internet freedom.” But if you ask me, everything seems to work just fine right now. It might be surprising to some, but removing government regulation and letting the free market do its thing can be remarkably effective.