Net Neutrality: What Are the Controversies?

March 26, 2023 • Zachary Amos


Whether or not you’re familiar with the stories around the net neutrality controversy, it affects every internet user. The political conversation surrounding net neutrality is becoming more robust as time goes on, with each country worldwide viewing the power of internet providers differently. 

To understand the debate, it’s essential to know the foundations of the net neutrality argument for comprehending the current landscape.

Net Neutrality Controversy — How Does it Affect You?

One of the most prominent debates over net neutrality comes from the definition. In short, if net neutrality is in effect, internet service providers (ISPs) will provide all internet content at the same speed and same service rates, regardless of the media. No domain or content format is given preference, nor is anything restricted. 

For example, streaming a video through YouTube versus a paid subscription streaming service would be equally accessible and loadable, just as a Wikipedia page would load at the same rate as a page full of images.

ISPs are confused about why they should be required to make everything equal. An example of the net neutrality controversy appeared in 2014 when companies like Comcast required services like Netflix to pay more to Comcast to access greater internet speeds. They proposed this price hike because they use more bandwidth. Netflix acquiesced so their customers could enjoy streaming more comfortably.

However, this raises a question of responsibility — should ISPs make companies with more bandwidth pay a premium or place that responsibility on customers to pay for greater infrastructure? Fiber optic cables are the foundation of internet access, and with constant expansion and technological development, it is a juggle to maintain and expand infrastructure. This is just one of the many ethical arguments surrounding net neutrality.

In summary, having net neutrality would make everything standardized, with no website content having a leg up over anyone else, no matter the corporation’s size. Eliminating net neutrality means companies can purchase their way to faster speeds, creating a potentially unbalanced internet — but if a company chooses, companies could funnel the money to improve access.

Pros and Cons — What’s the Argument? 

Most would not want their internet bill to skyrocket. However, if ISPs don’t provide infrastructure with the extra money they’re charging companies to speed up their connections, other domains slow down as others speed up. 

Many ignore a critical distinction — net neutrality would regulate companies who provide internet services, not the internet itself. There is a question on how much social burden ISPs have — their only job is providing internet access. With that ability, should they then have the choice of how users explore it? 

This note will help guide conversations surrounding net neutrality and what entities — governments, companies and internet users — are responsible for what.

Argument for Net Neutrality

Net neutrality would prevent a tiered internet service structure, ensuring no website is slower just because a billion-dollar corporation paid more for faster access. Small businesses could not possibly keep up with these stakes. This allows everyone to maintain financial stability and continued online maintenance for their online content.

Without net neutrality, the democratic nature of the internet may fall into disarray. ISPs and companies with large budgets could increase censorship with actions like YouTube demonetization and curating social media feeds to suit political agendas.

ISPs can charge companies to get greater bandwidth while charging customers to access those companies. Meanwhile, the only entities that gain from this exchange are ISPs in profit and large companies attempting to monopolize the internet from competitors. Net neutrality prevents this type of gouging.

Argument Against Net Neutrality

However, some fear perpetuating the ideology of net neutrality will encourage national governments to control internet usage, and different concerns over digital censorship arise. Specific content of the internet may be limited and, in the worst-case scenario, deleted — but should ISPs make these decisions? 

Since conversations about net neutrality started ramping up in 2015, tax increases have been a focal point. It’s possible that continued law-making would shift tax laws surrounding ISPs, which most would not want to endure. Would increasing taxes on these companies cause internet bills to increase for households?

A suggestion from 2017 by ISPs against net neutrality was fast lanes — ways for large bandwidth users to pay more to access greater speeds, allowing every other form of traffic to use regular lanes. ISPs made this proposal in an attempt to create a happy medium, demonstrating there were ways to make equal ground without net neutrality.

The State of the Internet — Where is Net Neutrality Now?

The enforcement of net neutrality varies worldwide, with certain countries like the United States going back and forth between having it and not. Some net neutrality countries include Belgium, Canada, Japan and Russia. 

The United States enforced net neutrality in 2015. However, the Trump administration repealed it in 2018. It all came down to classification. 

When it was enforced in 2015, it was classified as a communications service. Yet in 2019, arguments against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classified it as an information service and didn’t need consumer protections. They stated broadband internet had no telecommunications component.

Some believe the pandemic will change how net neutrality is viewed as more companies move to a work-from-home model — internet access needs to be more significant and consistent no matter the industry.

Should the Internet Be Neutral?

Lobbyists and everyday internet users alike have opinions regarding the net neutrality controversy. Do people want the government to regulate the internet? Should large companies have to pay for the amount of bandwidth they use? Should ISPs control usage when they provide humans access to the internet, not access to individual companies or specific content? 

These questions allow entities to analyze how open-source the internet should be, with the general public understanding the benefits net neutrality could provide. However, with control mainly in the hands of ISPs and governments, the responsibility for internet users to stay informed is a top priority so the conversation has equal representation.