Open Internet Is the Solution to Net Neutrality Woes

Apr 28, 2017 | Policy

The terms “net neutrality” and “open Internet” have been used loosely and interchangeably over the years, leaving many people confused and using the wrong terminology to express what they want from Internet providers and the agencies that govern them. Network neutrality, or net neutrality, is essentially an Internet that does not give preference to one application or type of content over others. In other words, (Internet Service Providers) ISPs should not give preference to one type of content over another on their networks, and they should not control or influence which devices or applications people use to access it. An open Internet is a means of obtaining and maintaining net neutrality, as well as ensuring everyone has fair access to Internet services.

The Internet’s Gatekeepers

Since the early 2000s, we’ve been leaving it up to the major ISPs that own Internet infrastructure, namely AT&T and Verizon, to control access to the last mile. The last mile is the infrastructure that brings the Internet to consumers’ homes and businesses. This has resulted in the monopolistic and duopolistic broadband markets we have today. Over the years, advocacy groups and the public have fought for net neutrality rules to try to ensure these ISPs play fair, maintain net neutrality and protect privacy. So far, net neutrality rules have not been an adequate solution.

As owners of Internet infrastructure, major ISPs are the gatekeepers, and the dealmakers of the Internet. Under this system, the playing field will never be level. These major players get to decide if new ISPs enter the market and under what terms. They have also been known to give preference to certain applications over others. i.e. AT&T could limit access to Netflix and give more bandwidth to users accessing content through Time Warner’s applications. When the same people that own and control the Internet’s infrastructure also own content distribution companies, the issue becomes more complex with increasingly more consequences for consumers and for innovation.

Net Neutrality Rules Have Failed Us

Policymakers have struggled to maintain net neutrality rules that would ensure telecom giants play fair. We are still trusting these companies to do what’s right and play by the rules. This has failed and will continue to fail as a method for ensuring that the Internet, through which the majority of our communications pass, remains neutral. Some have made the specious argument that “operators should have the freedom to police what they own.” Let’s be clear, AT&T laid that groundwork with government assistance, and given a hundred-year monopoly to boot. They are not struggling to recoup those infrastructure costs.

A True Open Access System Would Regulate Telecom Giants

We advocate that Open Access is the only way to achieve Net Neutrality, as well as to provide consumers with more choices, fair pricing and encourage innovation. Companies who “own” the infrastructure should be regulated as a public utility to allow other ISPs to use their last mile and sell Internet service to consumers under equal terms – as they did in the past, and how other industries do now. Under an open Internet system, there would be less of a need, or no need, for confusing net neutrality rules that are constantly up for debate.

Open Access Is Not a Radical Idea

In the energy utility market, we have open access systems. A company owns the infrastructure for distribution, but retail providers all pay the same rate to use that infrastructure, and no one is given preference over another. This has worked out to provide many more choices and better prices for consumers. Like power, the Internet is integral to our economy and our everyday lives, and should be treated as a utility. The big Service Providers like to play the role of damsel in distress, but they are in reality the dragon dictating the terms of the battlefield.

Lawmakers and experts often tout the open electricity marketplace, but prevent the same system from governing our ISPs. All they are doing is protecting big business monopolies from the hardships most businesses have to face every day in a competitive market. The fight for an open Internet has been a long, hard road, and we will continue the fight for as long as it takes.