Dec 21, 2017

Net Neutrality or Internet Freedom?

The five members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just voted on how the agency will regulate the Internet. Two commissioners voted in favor of "Net Neutrality." The other three, including Chairman Ajit Pai, voted in favor of “Internet Freedom.”

If you’re confused because those phrases sound like the same thing, that's intentional. There are competing persuaders at work. This is politics, after all. That doesn't mean either phrase is a lie, though.

"Net Neutrality" is actually anti-freedom in the sense that it forces Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to treat all Web traffic as equal. ISPs cannot charge more for faster access under the order. To be more precise: They can't slow service down (throttle) to those not paying higher fees. The public thinks of this as pro-freedom because many proponents of Net Neutrality have convinced them the issue is about keeping the Internet accessible to everyone. The name itself was designed to reinforce this idea. The persuaders who created it wisely did not call it "Net Socialism." They chose "neutrality," which suggests anyone opposed wants the opposite: partiality, bias, preferences.

Two can play at that game. Those against FCC control of the Internet named their proposal “Restoring Internet Freedom.” On December 14, the FCC voted in favor with the aforementioned 3-2 split.

Unfortunately for the "Internet Freedom" folks, it’s probably too late to change public perception about this issue. That's because "Net Neutrality" has become the common name for the topic, and most in the media are referring to what happened last Thursday as "ending Net Neutrality." It’s never good when your position is defined as a negative opposite.

This is no doubt one reason why a Mozilla/Ipsos poll found 76% of the public supports Net Neutrality, including even 73% of Republicans (folks who are typically anti-regulation). Such is the power of political branding.