“We paid for a free and open Internet, we can’t let it be taken away. We have to win this, and we have to win this now,” said Sen. (Minn.) Al Franken in a video speech addressing the issue of net neutrality (“Net Neutrality: The Free Speech Issue of our Time” 240). Net neutrality, a hot issue at the moment, is a term that fundamentally sums up the future of the internet and free speech as we know it. “Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. Under Net neutrality, internet service providers have to let all content flow at the same speed”(“Net Neutrality: The Free Speech Issue of our Time” 239). The absence of net neutrality limits freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The absence of net neutrality would change the way speech is delivered, give bigger news corporations an advantage and could put limits on content.
Net Neutrality Absence Changes the Way Speech is Delivered
The absence of net neutrality changes the way speech is delivered. Without net neutrality, the internet would operate by a two-tiered system. The two-tiered Internet would “essentially undermine the premise of net neutrality” ( Miller 1). The two-tiered system gives internet service providers the ability to decide what content travels faster. Content for some companies would travel through the faster tier while content for others would travel through the slower tier. The companies who are using the slower tier have limits put on their right to freedom of speech, because it is more difficult for their voices to be heard.
An internet without net neutrality has advantages for entities with greater profits. “The chairman of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has proposed new rules to permit a fast lane for content providers that are willing and able to pay for it. This means that corporations will be able to get their content delivered faster. Mom and pop stores would lose even more ground to corporate giants. Big media companies will be able to get their version of the news to consumers faster, and would end up paying higher rates for internet service, and new obstacles to accessing the content that we want. This is the free speech issue of our time” (“Net Neutrality: The Free Speech Issue of our Time” 239-240). This system would create an imbalance of power in society because of how the public obtains their information. Free speech is threatened in the absence of net neutrality because the voices of smaller companies are silenced by the powerful voices of the larger companies.
If net neutrality became non-existent, internet users would face new obstacles. With net neutrality, “consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what lawful content they want to access, create, or share with others” (“Open Internet” 1). Without net neutrality, their access to tools to create blogs, forums or other avenues of free speech could be limited. Without access to these tools, they are being denied their right to freedom of speech.
With net neutrality, consumers have easy access to communication with other consumers around the world. Consumers are able to communicate with each other for free. They don’t have to “ask permission or pay tolls to broadband providers to reach others on the network” (“Open Internet” 1). If a consumer creates a website, they “don’t have to get permission to share it with the world” (“Open Internet” 1). In this respect, consumers are able to fully exercise their First Amendment right to free speech because of net neutrality.
Net Neutrality Absence Gives Bigger News Companies an Advantage
The absence of net neutrality would give bigger news companies an advantage. Content for larger news companies would be delivered faster. In this scenario, freedom of the press is threatened. Larger news companies that have more profits than news companies of a smaller scale would be able to buy out the faster lanes of the two-tiered system. For example, newspapers that operate on a smaller scale than larger newspapers would be at a disadvantage. “If the phone or cable companies are allowed to control the Internet’s fast lanes, newspapers will have no choice but to acquiesce to their financial demands” (“‘YES’ TO NET NEUTRALITY” 1). With a two-tiered system, only a few voices could be easily heard. The voices of the smaller news companies that would not be so easily heard, would have limits put on their right to freedom of speech.
More people would be reading the content of the larger news company. In the time that we live in, instant gratification is expected in everyday life. News outlets are always scrambling to beat each other to break the story. More profitable news companies would have a huge advantage in getting more readers, viewers and followers due to their capability to buy the faster tier. Freedom of the press is limited because of the smaller news companies having to use the slower tier. The message that they want to convey cannot travel as fast as they want it to. Therefore, their right to freedom of the press is cut short. The content of the larger news company that travels through the fast tier wins out, and the smaller news company’s right to freedom of the press is ultimately denied.
People equate a news company that has a big following with one that always has the facts in place. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true. The loudest voice in the room isn’t necessarily the one with all the facts. If smaller, less profitable news companies cannot get their voices heard because they are operating on the slower tier, then freedom of the press is not being given to the fullest extent.
Net Neutrality Absence Could Put Limits on Content
The absence of net neutrality could put limits on content. It could put limits on what can be accessed. “The Internet providers shouldn’t be allowed to charge different companies more or less for their data or to slow down, or block, access to Web sites and services they don’t like” (Pogue 1). Without net neutrality, internet service providers could block access to websites that they don’t like. If an internet service provider was biased toward someone or something affiliated with a particular website, that provider could decide to block access to the website. By blocking access to a lawful website, the internet service provider is essentially blocking freedom of speech. If it is a news site that they are blocking access to, the internet service provider is essentially blocking freedom of the press.
In a world without net neutrality, consumer’s ability to share content could be affected. If a consumer chooses to share something lawful online, they should be able to do that without unnecessary barriers imposed by internet providers. Net neutrality allows consumers to share their political and social views through content that consumers share with each other on the internet. In this way, net neutrality is giving consumers their full rights to freedom of speech.
If net neutrality were to become a thing of the past, the speed at which content could be accessed or shared would be affected. In the absence of net neutrality, if an internet provider wanted to slow down the rate at which certain content could be accessed or shared, they could. Since the content is taking a backseat to the content the internet provider is giving priority to, consumers are being denied their rights to freedom of speech because of the limited access to the content that they want to share.
The absence of net neutrality limits freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The absence of net neutrality would change the way speech is delivered, give bigger news corporations an advantage and could put limits on content. Net neutrality can help protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press by existing. In essence, net neutrality is freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Net neutrality allows all content to run through cyberspace at the same speed, which gives all of this content equal opportunity to reach consumers. To deny consumers net neutrality would be denying them their right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
This essay was written for my CMJN4000 Mass Media Law and Regulation class in fall 2014.
Miller, Zeke J. “Obama Opposes ‘Fast Lanes’ in Support of Net Neutrality.” Time.com (2014): 1. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
“Net Neutrality: The Free Speech Issue of Our Time.” Vital Speeches Of The Day 80.7 (2014): 239-240. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
“Open Internet.” Federal Communications Commission. FCC.gov. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. http://www.fcc.gov/openinternet.
Pogue, David. “The Great Net Debate.” Scientific American 310.4 (2014): 36. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
“‘YES’ TO NET NEUTRALITY.” Editor & Publisher Oct. 2008: 17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.