With the COVID-19 pandemic, our internet usage has spiked dramatically as we work from home and spend more time streaming content. In fact, internet usage is a significant part of our lives and the net neutrality debate has become all too common in the USA. Whether we use it to connect with others on social media, accessing news, entertainment, information, or as a web design agency, the internet speed directly influences our experience. There are very few and dominant internet service providers in the United States, and they are responsible for where and how we access the internet.
Responsibility during COVID-19
It is important to ensure that access to digital content is made available during these challenging times. Since internet providers can influence our means to access information and communication internet providers have responsibly signed a connected ledge.
Here is the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, as written in a press release given by the FCC on March 13:
“Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:
- (1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;
- (2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
- (3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.”
Net Neutrality is one such act that aims to keep access to the internet unhindered and fair, but due to the increased usage will there be restrictions placed? The importance of Net neutrality and its effect on internet speed will no doubt affect our experience and what we access it.
Internet providers in the United States
There are over 2000 internet service providers in the united states, there are 12 leading broadband providers in North America.
Internet Service Providers:
- 882 DSL “Digital Subscriber Line”
- 235 Copper providers (Business T1/T3 connections, etc)
- 447 Cable companies.
- 1297 Fiber Internet providers.
- 1568 Fixed Wireless Broadband providers.
- 52 Mobile Broadband and LTE providers.
The hugely dominant top 3 providers are Comcast with 28,186, 000 subscribers, followed by Charter with 26,325,000 subscribers and AT&T with 15,575,000 subscribers. To get a better idea about how dominant these providers are, let’s look at the fourth popular provider Verizon with only 6,961,000 subscribers and followed by Century link with 4,714,000 subscribers. [Reference: LRG]
The interesting thing to note here is that these dominant providers do not directly compete against each other in the same area. According to the Broadband map, the top 2 providers, Comcast and Charter do not compete against each other in the same state. By comparing this coverage map, it is easy to conclude that they prefer to maintain a monopoly in their respective states. For example, Washington state has coverage of 73.9% by Comcast, while Charter only covers 9.5% in that state. In Wisconsin, Charter covers 78.4%, while Comcast only covers 1.4% of the state. It is apparent that they generally prefer to be out of each other's way and agree to maintain their dominance (Broadband Maps).
Having a few dominant ISP is not beneficial for the consumers, because it results in a single Internet provider monopolizing a state or county. This is an ideal situation for the internet provider because they can stifle the competition and leave the consumers no choice but to subscribe to the dominant ISP in that area. Without any competition, Internet providers have no motivation to improve the quality and speed of the service they provide.
The global average connection speeds rankings, the United States is at number 15 with an average speed of 32.89 Mb/s. With no motivation to improve their service due to lack of competition, it emboldens the Internet service providers to use unethical practices. This is why we need regulations that keep our internet open and fair.
Before Net Neutrality was repealed, it served to consumers from various unethical practices. The Net neutrality allowed Interned Service Providers to be classified as a Utility service, similar to water and electricity. This allowed the government to have tighter control over the service providers.
The main focus of Net neutrality was to prohibit Internet service providers to use Blocking, Throttling, and Paid Prioritization practices. The blocking practice allowed service providers to block any websites and apps that they see fit. The dangerous implication here is that it limits our freedom to access information and gives privates corporations power to censorship information and legal contents. The throttling practice entails that service providers are allowed to manipulate Internet speed to certain services. This could lead to service providers to limit the quality and speed of services like Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services. By gaining an ability to throttle services, ISP will get the power to charge customers extra fees for unhindered internet speed.
As an example, Portuguese is a country without any regulation similar to Net neutrality. As a result, ISP like MEO unethically takes full advantage of Paid prioritization and throttling to charge its customers a multitude of extra fees for full internet service (Meo). What MEO has done is that they bundled all services into different categories like Messaging, social, video, music and email and priced each category so their customers have to pay extra to access any of these features. Its an extremely unethical practice since all these services should come free with the use of the internet. With Net neutrality gone, practices like this can happen in the United States and the ISP’s currently have the power to do so.
All these unethical practices were prevented by the Net Neutrality, which is why it's important that we must restore it back. But it is not all that hopeless, Federally the Net Neutrality is currently not in effect, but State law can be signed to preserve Net neutrality, and consumers can stay protected. Thankfully in Washington state, the first Net neutrality law was signed by Governor Jay Inslee (Kang, Cecilia). Furthermore, governor Phil Murphy in New Jersey also signed an executive order to preserve open and free internet. It’s important that people of the United States follow their example and contact their governor and state representatives to restore Net Neutrality Both Federally and State wise.
Takeaway on Net Neutrality
Internet speed and quality are directly controlled by a few dominant internet providers in the United States. These providers have no competition to motivate them to keep the quality of their service high. Net neutrality also directly protects internet speed and quality and keeps the ISP’s in check. Since Net neutrality was appealed last year, the Internet service providers are free to block, throttle, and prioritize services based on payment.
Importance of Net Neutrality
As the tech industry places more emphasis on net neutrality rulings, it’s important that we restore Net neutrality. While Washington and New Jersey have signed state laws to uphold Neutrality, the regulation is not in effect Federally. Many states remain unprotected because of this, which is why we must urge our state governor and representatives to restore Net neutrality.