An billboard against a blue sky with clouds that says, "Internet Neutrality: Straight Ahead," the opposite of what will happen if practices like zero-rating become a widespread standard.

Zero-rating is a sneaky way that ISPs try to control the way we consume data on the web.

 

At the end of the day, the Internet is just a network of tubes.  So who’s to say which tubes cost money to use and which don’t? Without net neutrality, Internet service providers and other companies can use strategies like zero-rating to forever change the way we browse the web. In a world where most television networks are controlled by a few major companies, the Internet is really one of last level playing fields out there.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. That means that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) do not have the right to block, slow down, or use paid prioritization to favor one website over another.

Essentially, a world without net neutrality is a world of censored knowledge. An open internet benefits everyone. Medical professionals in developing areas can search for critical information to treat patients.  Small family-owned businesses have the opportunity to expand into multi-national companies, servicing millions. People around the globe deserve an equal chance at success.

The Internet is and should always be an open forum for the free exchange of ideas.  In fact, the UN recently deemed Internet access a human right. In the digital age, it is important to discuss and determine the ethicality of Internet usage control.

Zero-rating

One sneaky way that ISPs are controlling the way we use the internet is through zero-rating.  When you use data to browse websites on your smartphone, your service provider keeps track of your data usage.  To prevent users from maxing out their data caps on the first day, say by watching two hours of YouTube on their daily commute, they zero-rate some sites.

With zero-rating, certain sites or apps don’t count towards the total amount of data you’ve used.  For example, a video streaming company can pay your service provider in advance to join this “zero-rating club.” This makes their services more appealing than another streaming site that fills your data cap more quickly.

If you think about it, there is no need for data caps or zero-rating.  If networks already have enough bandwidth to unlimited data to zero-rating sites, then there is enough for everyone.  On top of being highly illogical, this practice is violating net neutrality.  The Netherlands, Slovenia, and Chile have already banned this practice, but the FCC remains silent on zero-rating regulation.

A World Without Net Neutrality

If ISPs continue to offer preferential treatment, strong service companies will become even more powerful.  Not only that, ISPs will dictate how you surf the Internet in your free time.  Right now, the web is composed of mostly streaming sites, blogs, games, social media, and email services.

Service providers will want to control which sites cost more to visit, and will also want additional fees from every website to show their content to customers. They can also choose to block certain sites and make visiting certain sites more expensive than others.

For those who argue that abolishing net neutrality can increase service provider competition, a free and open internet also stimulates ISP competition.  It also is the backbone of entrepreneurship in the digital age.  It promotes freedom of speech innovation.  Lack of net neutrality can lead to monopolies, which are already a big issue in free market economics.

What Can You Do About It?

To speak to your local legislators about this issue, or to contact members of the FCC like Chairman Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn, and Michael O’Reilly, here are some tips:

The first and easiest way to contact them is via email. Their email addresses are located on their website. You can also call them.  Legislators take their call appointments seriously.  If you are interested in tech and have educated opinions to provide on the issue, they are eager to listen.  Since they themselves are not tech experts, they want to be as informed as possible when creating tech policies.

If you are a DC local, you can choose to speak with them in person. If you are not, you can even make appointments to video chat with FCC commissioners or local legislators.

The Internet is a utility, not a commodity. Under the Obama administration, it was deemed a telecommunications service, meaning that it receives the same treatment as water, gas, and electricity services.  However, under the Trump administration, these rules are projected to reverse.  If you are a net neutrality supporter, it is your job to voice your opinion.

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