78% of Americans are in favor of defending network neutrality, yet the issue manages to still be up for debate in Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Overwhelmingly, the general public supports net neutrality regardless of party lines, and it is clear why.
The core argument surrounding net neutrality is about treating all internet data as equal. Imagine that in place of data, we used electricity as an example. Electrical companies currently have no say in how we use our electricity: lighting houses, powering appliances, or charging an electric chair all just end up as a single number on the electricity bill. Getting rid of neutrality would mean the companies would be able to charge more for different uses or limit the amount of electricity going to your household. In the case of data, this potentially means paying more for certain websites and having data limits, similar to those on mobile devices.
Opponents to net neutrality consist mainly of those affiliated with internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T, Spectrum, Verizon, and Cox. They argue that being able to limit data toward, for example, video streaming services, opens more bandwidth for other functions like news websites or online gaming. However, this is merely avoiding the real issue at hand. As technology continues to grow, there needs to be improved infrastructure dedicated toward managing data. Instead of laying down the necessary roads to speed up transportation, ISPs are effectively trying to build toll roads for the internet.
Some would argue that this idea aligns with the capitalist value of a free market economy, but there are many more factors to consider. Nobody would dare restrict access to water or electricity, and as technology becomes more integral to society, data falls into a similar category. The concept of data equality also relates to the First Amendment rights of free speech and expression.
In the 1919 Supreme Court case Postal Telegraph Cable Co. v. Tonopah & T. R. Co., the idea of the common carrier was first applied to telegraph messages, meaning that the service must be provided to the public without any discrimination, so telegraph companies can not deny or favor any single party. Additional services such as gas, airlines, and railroads have been given common carrier status by the FCC, but the current board, headed by former Verizon advisor Ajit Pai, has proposed plans to eliminate the common carrier status of the internet. In response, petitions and protests have popped up everywhere online, from social media platforms to companies like Google and Netflix releasing statements supporting net neutrality.
Regardless of how you use the internet, everyone has a reason to defend net neutrality. Websites and online events like Battle for the Net offer simple ways to protect neutrality: incentivizing the development of faster data and benefiting everyone who uses the internet.