Net neutrality essential

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The Internet is the future.

We can’t predict how it will evolve or what it will do to society, but it isn’t going away anytime soon. Its growth is astounding. Many people rely entirely on streaming videos on sites like Hulu to keep up with TV shows, not to mention doing constructive work like watching Keyboard Cat. Yet many Internet service providers (ISPs) want to restrict the freedom of the Internet, and a recent court decision allows them to do just that.

The decision last Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia deals with net neutrality and how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is able to enforce it. Specifically, it holds that the FCC does not have the authority to stop ISPs from having absolute control over their networks. The FCC previously ordered Comcast to stop limiting traffic on its network.

Net neutrality does not have a single definition, but it generally refers to opposition to the practice of prioritizing certain types of Web content over others. For example, companies that oppose net neutrality often want to slow down (or “throttle”) high-bandwidth content that congests their networks.

At first glance, throttling practices don’t seem unreasonable. After all, the corporate lawyers claim, the only people who download this kind of high-quality content are software pirates or computer enthusiasts. These regulations wouldn’t affect most people.

Assuming that by “most people,” you mean nobody who watches Hulu, or sports clips, or CNN video, or any of the other rich multimedia content available on the Web. Assuming that you think the way the Internet is now is the same way it will be for the next decade. Assuming that you think technology has reached its saturation point, where innovation is no longer needed.

Without net neutrality, ISPs will be able to decide what kind of content is most important. They will be able to slow down websites that compete with them. They will be able to charge sites to have fast transfer speeds, creating a tiered Internet that disallows startups without the money to pay protection to an ISP. This is not just hypothetical; it is already in business plans for telecommunications and cable giants.

Allowing prioritized Internet access and tiered networks will do grievous harm to the greatest source of knowledge, media, and innovation that exists today. It will discourage new ideas while promoting outdated business strategies.

The Internet is the future, but net neutrality is essential for making it a future controlled by users, not by corporate greed.