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A candid look at the "free & open" Internet

Let’s look at the term “free and open internet.”

When talking about the net neutrality debate, this phrase can spring up on both sides. Those in favor of net neutrality want it so the smaller sites can function at the same speeds as the larger sites, and those opposed want it so that the bigger sites can pay their way into the fast lanes.

Now, every time I hear that term thrown around by net-neutrality opponents, I can’t help but laugh, and think of the old SNL segment where Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler sit behind the Weekend Update desk and ask, “Really?” as a response to all of the absurd political headlines of the week.

The reason I take on this response is because that is so the opposite of what they are trying to do.

Recently, we have seen much progress by way of net neutrality. Back in June, a Federal appeals court upheld the most recent open Internet order from the FCC. Of course, companies like AT&T and Verizon said they would challenge that ruling almost immediately. And with Donald Trump as president, the new government is also going to challenge these rules.

For years now, an “us vs. them” mentality has developed among tech companies and internet service providers. The ISPs are out to charge the tech companies loads of money for faster internet lanes, and the tech companies think that’s unfair.

That is, until the larger tech companies decided that they could afford to pay the difference to get their sites on the fast lanes.

It is true though that lobbyists for the big Internet sites like Google, Facebook and Netflix met with new FCC chair Ajit Pai (anti-net neutrality, in case you were wondering) to encourage him to keep the rules in place.

But what do these sites really have to lose?

If the rules stay, they don’t have to pay. If the rules go, they have enough revenue to shell out any amount necessary to obtain those faster speeds. People are going to flock to those websites regardless of how fast or slow they are. It’s the companies providing the Internet that will really feel the effects of net neutrality rules, when they are no longer allowed to make money off of the bigger tech companies.

At the end of the day, the anti-net neutrality argument really comes down to two things: a silencing of the “little guy” and a false notion of “free-market choice.”

Netflix doesn’t care if it has to pay to be in the fast lane, since they have the money anyway. The smaller independent websites, however, do not have that luxury. The millions of people who check indy sites like FAIR or individual blogger pages would have to wait much longer to get their news -- and even if the wait time is not that much slower, we all know that one minute can feel like fifteen in internet years. Those smaller outlets might lose their traffic, thus all together silencing what those groups have to say. The irony here is that when Google, Netflix, Facebook and the other now giant websites started, they relied on that open Internet to get to where they are today. Just an observation...

And when it comes to comparing an unregulated internet to a “free-market,” even conservative news blogs agree that the Internet market is hardly free in its current state. ISP lobbyists are connected to government officials who influence which orders to overturn and how to do it. However, by claiming that the Internet is indeed “free” fails to address the fact that this also allows larger companies like Verizon and AT&T to charge for certain sites for faster access to that Internet, since it is not regulated. And as these ISPs conglomerates merge, their sphere of influence in government gets larger as the notion of a “free market Internet” shrinks dramatically.

There is little that the individual can do to help save the Internet. However, when millions of individuals come together, that’s where we’ve seen the most impact. Never underestimate the power of the enraged blogger. How else are you going to check out their stuff before next year?

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