Elephant and donkey alike must support free Internet

The debate over net neutrality in the United States has come back into the public spotlight, with President Obama and prominent Republican figures, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, declaring opposing views on the issue. In all the fiery rhetoric surrounding this issue, there is danger of the dialogue about what is ultimately an issue of free speech being lost in hyperbole and political jockeying.

The debate over net neutrality comes down to the issue of whether major Internet providers will have the ability to restrict connection speeds or access to certain websites. Were this to be allowed, an internet service provider (ISP) would have the ability to restrict access to sites it did not want to provide access to, slow down speeds to other websites (such as those owned by or partnered with a competitor), and introduce tiered pricing models for internet speeds and access.

Allowing this to become a reality would allow for an ISP to partner with a company such as Hulu and then slow down speeds for their customers accessing a competitor such as Netflix, offer Internet packages where consumers would have to pay additional fees to get better speed for video streaming or gaming websites. Most alarmingly, ISPs could block websites they do not agree with, which could range from negative press to websites concerning political issues. Speech and content should be free and equal on the Internet, and net neutrality is a proposal which would ensure that this remains true.

Net neutrality became a massive national issue recently after a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations intended to maintain net neutrality. The issue was quickly politicized, with Democrats, including President Obama, supporting net neutrality regulation, and Republicans viewing it as unnecessary market intervention.

Most notably, Senator Ted Cruz declared net neutrality to be “Obamacare for the internet,” displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept, and turning the issue into an even greater political lightning rod. While the health insurance market is currently divided into plans with different levels of coverage, net neutrality would ensure that the Internet remains open and unstratified.

An open and free Internet is critical to maintaining free speech in the 21st century, guaranteeing free access to information, and ensuring that access to free speech cannot be stratified by income group.
Net neutrality is a critical aspect of protecting free speech, and the public understanding of this issue must not be clouded by political misrepresentations of the topic.