Why Is Net Neutrality Important?

by Lisa Utley | Photo credit: Creative Commons  | 17 February 2015

Two weeks ago, there were major developments in the ongoing push for “net neutrality” in the United States, which would affect Internet use globally.

Chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, released a proposal calling on “the FCC [to] use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open Internet protections.” This was met with renewed vows of support as well as sharp criticism from all sectors of American society, as the debate is being carried into the economic and political spheres of U.S. policy-making.

In layman’s terms, Wheeler seeks to preserve citizens’ ability to access the Internet without being charged for website visits and services, such as cellular and cable connections. This would be accomplished by considering Internet access as a utility, similar to phone service. If this happened, it would not be possible for some media giants to charge more for their online services, similar to how some TV channels cost more.

The concept of net neutrality has existed for some time, and U.S. President Obama campaigned on his support of it back in 2008. But as the online world becomes increasingly intertwined with our daily lives, the issue has also grown in contention.

In spring of 2014, the FCC introduced policies that were at odds with its chairman’s current stance to protect the open Internet. The FCC was forced to revise their policies after their introduction of “fast” and “slow” lane Internet packages and their deal brokering between content managers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) was met with public backlash.

These services include Netflix and YouTube, which account for 50% of all Internet traffic, according to CNET. You can imagine how much more profit-making potential lies in these online resources, and this explains the strong motivation of ISPs to revoke net neutrality regulations in favour of a subscription-based model.

The global ramifications of this debate should not be overlooked. Even in Hong Kong, half way around the world, we rely on U.S.-based online content for entertainment, news, business and personal use. Net neutrality aims to keep the Internet playing field level, thus promoting international information exchange and innovation.

In fact, the online world is fertile grounds for start-up companies and otherwise limited students or pioneering entrepreneurs to test products and gain recognition. If this were overshadowed by domineering big businesses, there would be less room for growth and ultimately damage the Internet’s creative side.

Consider us, TecHKU, the HKU Journal of Technology. We depend on cable, cellular and phone Internet connections for our website to be seen by our readers. If corporations, such as search engines, began charging its users, our readership would gradually reduce as people become less motivated to seek new sources of information.

As Wheeler wrote in his opinion article for Wired, “my proposal assures the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, […because] the Internet must be fast, fair and open.” For the sake of global innovation and ingenuity, let’s hope it stays that way.

Lisa Utley

Lisa Utley is a first year journalism student at HKU. Born and raised on Canada’s west coast, she loves going skiing and hiking with her friends and family.

Latest posts by Lisa Utley (see all)

Author: Lisa Utley

Lisa Utley is a first year journalism student at HKU. Born and raised on Canada’s west coast, she loves going skiing and hiking with her friends and family.

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