By Brett Dunst, VP of Corporate Communications, DreamHost
Hey reader of this online article, you ever use the internet? It’s good, right? It’s got Netflix, Instagram, a bunch of WordPress sites – the whole thing’s a lot of fun.
You may or may not know this about the internet, but it’s been free and open since the beginning, so much so that it’s hard not to take it for granted. This whole time, all internet traffic has been treated equally. Whether it’s the new season of Mozart in the Jungle, boring work emails, or the latest in meme technology, all content travels across the internet at the same speed and arrives at its destination as efficiently as possible. It’s a fair system and it works great. That open access is what we’re talking about when we talk about Net Neutrality: it’s a way of saying, “Listen internet, if perfect’s what you’re searching for then just stay the same, because you’re amazing just the way you are.”
Unfortunately there are some people who don’t want to be a part of the bright future where the internet remains as free and accessible as it’s always been. Unfortunately, this group includes the President himself and the FCC Chairman he appointed. Chairman Ajit Pai has already led the FCC in voting to rollback rules established in 2015 that previously protected the open internet.
Let’s say these people get their way. What’s the worst that could happen? With no regulations remaining to protect net neutrality, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could make their own rules, creating and then charging a premium for the use of internet “fast lanes,” where some content providers pay to have their sites load more quickly. On the other side of the coin, customers could also be invited to pay extra for faster access to certain sites – think of a world where Wikipedia could be flagged as a ‘premium’ service by your ISP. Suddenly everyone’s being nickel-and-dimed for what used to be one low, flat rate.
Why would anyone be so darn wrong? It’s easy to paint the enemies of net neutrality as greedy monsters from a dystopian nightmare who would put a price tag on the air you’re breathing right now if they could, but let’s grant their argument a fair shake before we tear it apart. Some net neutrality opponents believe that the protections harm business and dampen ISP investment, innovation and flexibility. Many in Congress and the FCC itself claim that net neutrality is simply big government interfering with the free market. Some claim that net neutrality will lead to excessive internet regulation and impede infrastructure developments, so who needs it?
Now that we set ‘em up, lets knock ‘em down. The truth is, net neutrality doesn’t stifle innovation. It drives it, while at the same time providing protections for both free speech and free enterprise. It doesn’t reduce ISP investments, as proven by telecom executives stating the fact that net neutrality hasn’t hurt them. Net neutrality is pro-business and pro-entrepreneurship by its nature – it defines a fair and open competitive playing field for market forces to operate upon. As is evidenced by the magnificent achievements of the internet we love which began as startups – Netflix, Google, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, I could go on – an open internet with low barriers of entry is an engine of unprecedented power when it comes to letting a new product, service, or idea find its audience and flourish.
This is why the potential end of net neutrality should terrify every one of us. Me. You. Everyone. Without it, none of those sites I just mentioned would exist. In a world where only massive and entrenched companies have sites that are easily accessible, I don’t know if you’d still be driving to Blockbuster for your videos, but maybe. Thankfully Netflix already innovated the crap out of that market, but in the future you might be paying an ISP extra for Netflix access, or have no real choice but to use your ISP’s own media service. Good luck getting a new competing business off the ground without equal internet speed and access, no matter how innovative it is.
These repercussions are scary enough, but it’s not just about the crushing effects it could have on small businesses. Content creating individuals could also be at risk for marginalization. Imagine finding your own website or blog stuck in a slow lane, while views more in line with the political and social preferences of ISPs and entrenched powers blaze by. Bad stuff!
So here’s the call to arms: let’s all move to Canada! No, that’s a joke – we stay and we fight! (Props to Canada for committing to an open internet though.)
The most effective action we can take is to write to the FCC and members of Congress and voice our opinion on net neutrality, especially if you run a website –and you aren’t already the size of Amazon, although they’re on board too. Naturally the FCC has made it super-duperly hard to find the comment form on its site, but there’s an easy link for you to use at Battle for the Net, a coalition DreamHost supports along with just about every other woke internet-based company. The FCC’s site actually crashed the last time it called for public comments on net neutrality, thanks to the over 4 million people who took action. Now go slow down their site before they do it to yours!
About the Author
Brett Dunst is VP of Corporate Communications at DreamHost, a global web hosting, domain registrar and cloud services provider.