This is my FEI Summative Assessment, and I’m so proud of it that I’m sharing it with the world! \(*^*)/
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved the end of Net Neutrality in a 3-2 vote (Kastrenakes). The time leading up to this decision has been filled with a lot of support on both sides. But the ethics influencing both arguments seem to be similar to each other regardless of the perspective. From the perspective of advocates of Net Neutrality, they support utilitarianism, virtue ethics, and deontology. However, their opponents who are against Net Neutrality, think they actually support self-interest and egoism. And vice versa. On the other hand, the political ideologies displayed by the two positions are contrastingly different, maybe even polar opposites. Supporters of Net Neutrality tend to be leftist liberals that support some aspects of communism while adversaries tend to be conservative rightists that encourage capitalism.
Net Neutrality means that, as long as the data from the Internet is not illegal according to the government, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all data the same regardless of its content, source, or destination (“Net Neutrality”). An ISP serves only as a middleman between the Internet and the consumer and should not reinforce any agenda of its own onto the consumer by tampering with the speed of the Internet content. What all this means is that consumers have the right to have access to any legal content they wish to view and ISPs cannot and should not interfere with the speed of the content for any reason (Bane). So what is the controversy?
A staunch supporter of the repeal of Net Neutrality is the new Chairman of FCC, Ajit Pai. Pai says that the strict rules of Net Neutrality “[micromanages] business models and preemptively [prohibits] services and applications and products that could be pro-competitive” (White). Ending Net Neutrality would create more competition between ISPs, and competition breeds innovation because the consumers will be deciding what will win in this field, so companies must cater to the consumer’s needs and think of creative methods to get ahead of their rivals. ISPs would gain more freedom and possibly more wealth, while the competition created by the freedom will allow “greater investment in digital infrastructure, which will create jobs, increase competition, and lead to better, faster, and cheaper internet access” (White). From his perspective, both providers and consumers will benefit from the end of Net Neutrality. He seems to support this decision in order to create the maximum amount of happiness and effectivity for the maximum amount of people; in other words, utilitarianism seems to be the main ethical reasoning for his argument. However, there is more to his line of reasoning than utilitarianism. From his argument, he believes that Net Neutrality was simply the government interfering with the virtual market and economy through harsh regulations. Pai believes that the method in which marketing is done should be trusted to private responsibility. Basically, he believes in capitalism, and this is a normal position to take especially since America’s economic system is a capitalist one. Growing up and being surrounded in a nation that fully encourages the continuance of capitalism may be why he also believes in capitalist values. But, as a politician, he has the duty to make sure that his plan won’t backfire on the people he serves. What will stop the ISPs from slowing down all internet content in order to receive more money? Pai “wants internet providers to voluntarily agree to not obstruct or slow consumer access to web content… in their terms of service” (Shepardson). However, terms of service are under the company’s jurisdiction, meaning that even if they first choose to agree to Pai’s wants, they’ll still have the option to completely change their mind and go against this wish with or without the user’s notice (Koepke). So, with the repealment of Net Neutrality, Pai is relying on ISPs to act virtuously and morally. He’s relying on virtue ethics to bind ISPs to a field in which ISPs won’t be able to cheat their consumers.
The second perspective on this issue is from a different nation, Canada. In December of 2017, the largest telecommunications company in Canada is leading a group of broadcasters, movie studios, cinema operators, and other major companies to “put an end to net neutrality, in the name of blocking piracy” (Hiltz). In fact, Bell has started send in proposals that promote “censorship to start blocking content that they don’t want people to have access to” (“Q&A”). In an interview, Laura Tribe, the executive director of Open Media, states that the repealment of Net Neutrality will most likely have an effect in Canada. Not only does it encourage Canadian companies like Bell to start taking a stance against Net Neutrality, sites like Youtube or Spotify that are based in the U.S will be affected by the lack of regulations American ISPs are subjected to, and Canadians will also be targeted for profit alongside American consumers. Lastly, Canadian businesses will not be able to compete on the same playing field as American businesses as companies have to pay to surpass their opponents. According to Tribe, the end of Net Neutrality only benefits “a very small handful of the telecom companies”. The big businesses are only trying to protect their own interests and to try making money off the Internet instead of being contained to just cable. In fact, anyone who aren’t part of the most privileged positions of society will suffer from the end of Net Neutrality because the the impact of this decision will hit every consumer because the content that is available to use will be controlled and that manipulation will affect the discourse communities will have with one another (“Q&A”). From Tribe’s perspective, ISPs and rich CEOs are supporting the end of Net Neutrality to aid their own self-interest.
In my own opinion, I support Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality allows people to gain access to the entirety of the Internet, not just the parts ISPs want us to see. Like Tribe said, the information available to us affects what we discuss in our community. If ISPs don’t want their consumers to see or listen to certain information, they have the power to block access to that information. The restrainment of information is the first step towards fascism. ISPs would have the ability to strangle free speech and influence public perception on a topic. While having the ability to do so may not directly that ISPs will, but there is nothing to stop them and the fact that they will have that authority is frightening, especially since the CEOs of internet providers are most likely rich, white men who mainly get their money from the labor of poor people. Secondly, around 70% of teachers in America assign homework that requires the Internet, yet more than 50 million students have no access to the virtual resource (Branam). If we take away Net Neutrality now, imagine what would happen to the children who need access to a website but do not have the money to obtain the information on that site. Thirdly, there’s nothing that legally binds ISPs to not slow down Internet speed for higher monetary gains. This relates to my first point, but it still matters regardless. While ending Net Neutrality may lead to competition, ISPs can ignore the prospect of competition and continue to maintain and increase the amount of power they hold over the Internet. That would mean that competition would, in fact, not breed and U.S would fall behind in economic growth and technological development on the world stage. The larger corporations will also decrease the chances of success for small independent companies that want to get onto the economic playing field. So, if Pai’s plans were to go into action, ISPs would have full control over the Internet and be able to manipulate U.S perception on all issues.
Bane, John, director. Net Neutrality Explained and Why It Matters. YouTube, YouTube, 11 July 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=K88BU3kjZ-c.
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Chung, Alex, and Chi Xing. Ethics of Net Neutrality. UC Davis, 2011, pp. 211–218, Ethics of Net Neutrality.
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Hiltz, Robert. “Inside Bell’s Push To End Net Neutrality In Canada.” CANADALAND, CANADALAND, 4 Dec. 2017, www.canadalandshow.com/bell-pushing-end-to-net-neutrality-in-canada/.
Kastrenakes, Jacob. “The FCC Just Killed Net Neutrality.” The Verge, The Verge, 14 Dec. 2017, www.theverge.com/2017/12/14/16776154/fcc-net-neutrality-vote-results-rules-repealed.
Koepke, Logan. “‘We Can Change These Terms at Anytime’: The Detritus of Terms of Service Agreements.” Medium, Medium, 18 Jan. 2015, medium.com/@jlkoepke/we-can-change-these-terms-at-anytime-the-detritus-of-terms-of-service-agreements-712409e2d0f1.
McCartney, Steve, and Rick Parent. “Ethics in Law Enforcement.” 2.1 Major Ethical Systems | Ethics in Law Enforcement, opentextbc.ca/ethicsinlawenforcement/chapter/2-1-major-ethical-systems/.
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Q&A: What Would a U.S. Repeal of Net Neutrality Mean for Canadians? CBC Radio, 8 Dec. 2017, www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-december-08-2017-the-current-1.4437902/q-a-what-would-a-u-s-repeal-of-net-neutrality-mean-for-canadians-1.4437993.
Savov, Vlad. “The US Net Neutrality Fight Affects the Whole World.” The Verge, The Verge, 23 Nov. 2017, www.theverge.com/2017/11/23/16693840/net-neutrality-us-fcc-global-effect.
Shepardson, David. “U.S. FCC Chairman Plans Fast-Track Repeal of Net Neutrality: Sources.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 7 Apr. 2017, www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-internet/u-s-fcc-chairman-plans-fast-track-repeal-of-net-neutrality-sources-idUSKBN1790AP.
White, Jeremy B. “Net Neutrality: Why Trump’s Top Internet Official Wants to Repeal the Internet Law, in His Own Words.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 21 Nov. 2017, www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/net-neutrality-repeal-reasons-ajit-pai-trump-official-article-explanation-a8068091.html.