If public resource such as water supply or electricity alters its quality by how much money we pay, what would it be like? In Korea, we are currently paying the same amount of money on the same supplies we use. That is, there is no limit on how much we decide to use the water supply or electricity. These are public goods, or resources, which are commodities or services that are provided without profit to all members of a society, either by the government, a private individual or an organization. After a certain period, we pay for the supplies we have used according to the amount used. Surely the quality of water or electricity would not be different by the money we pay. However, network service is a service that is provided to all the people equally without profit, hence a public resource, but it is now in danger of being provided with different quality by how much money we pay.
On the 14th of December, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision ruled out net neutrality from the information society by law and thereby legalized the inequality on arranging the Internet access quality by the amount of money consumers pay.
All Bits are Created Equal
The term “net neutrality” was coined by Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia law school. According to professor Wu, net neutrality is a principle that the Internet Service Providers (ISP) should treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under the principle, the ISP ought not to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.
As net neutrality guarantees an even opportunity on information acquisition, the concept can be seen as a fundamental right. Since the quality of Internet depends on its’ speed, the FCC’s decision on grading the Internet would greatly damage the quality the network users experience. Net neutrality has been considered as a basic right in the information society. Access to network services should not be ordered according to the users’ payments since it is a public good. If someone is provided with a comparatively faster service, others would have to use slower Internet. It is unjust to favor those who have paid additional fee to others. What is the difference between someone holding all the property of a resource such as water and making people pay for it? The sudden change of the network service from a public good to a private property is almost bewildering. But why, does this right of net neutrality stand against the government’s will?
First of all, the ones who support the eradication of net neutrality insist on the immorality of large content providers such as tax evasion or violation of law. They state that it is unreasonable of the content providers like Apple and Google to accumulate so much capital by plucking out on the users, while perpetrating moral deeds. People who support the abolition of net neutrality in Korea also name Naver as one of the corporations that trigger much harm to the market by excessly intervening without any regulations by the fact that they are just a common carrier.
Furthermore, some people argue that when the Internet service is left as a public good, tragedy of commons can occur because of the neutrality public goods have, meaning that everyone can have same access to the service whenever they want equally. Tragedy of commons is an economic term for a situation within a shared resource system where individual users acting on their self-interest may deplete or spoil that resource through their collective action. For example, people who worry about tragedy of the commons frequently say trucks or loaded cars should pay more road tax than sedans because loaded cars tend to give more burden to the road than sedans. To prevent tragedy of the commons, possessors of trucks or loaded cars can pay more for the road, thereby taking the responsibility of the roads. The opposers of net neutrality match this example to where the contents which have bigger traffic while providing on the network service should pay more fee. They say that if Internet service is regarded a common resource, people would overuse it, so that it would cause overloads which could harm all the population using the Internet. However, the consumers of the contents have had no problem in using and consuming the contents provided by large contents providers until now, during which the technology and network services have been developed in an unprecedented rate. It makes this claim merely dissenters’ grudge on the contents providers.
As net neutrality is abolished, the ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast can now selectively provide different services fast and slow. For instance, they can make services of Google, Facebook, or Instagram’s networking speed slower or even shut out the network service completely and compel the providers to pay more to use the service.
Contents providers including the above-mentioned will be greatly harmed if the ISPs grab the right to handle the whole network. They might have to submit to the network getting slower, or may have to pay, perhaps a lot, to use a stabilized network service. This can lead to more nuisance, a condition under which the ISPs can give preference to their own service traffic and by that boost up their own supplied contents. The ISPs would discriminate the large contents providers on their own, making them pay more for the additional traffic they should be using under the name of justice. This would lead to profound hardship for the smaller and middle-sized contents providers which could hardly pay for the considerable traffic bills.
This apprehension that suddenly got into all sizes of contents providers would notably affect the smaller contents providers. The networking speed difference between large and rich contents providers and the ones that could not pay for more traffic could be extreme.
To see the circumstances in Korea, they say the voice of the ISPs would become vociferous, holding with the United States’ decision on net neutrality. As in the past, the ISPs have been raging about Kakaotalk, the most widely used messenger application now in Korea. They insisted that the traffic of Kakaotalk overloads the network service, so they should pay for it. These issues have also been raised in Samsung’s smart TV application and Youtube, indicating that net neutrality issues between the ISP and contents providers could be generated in Korea, too. And if it goes as it did in the United States, the consequence would be the same.
Troublesomes to be Dealt with
The abolition of net neutrality utterly harms people’s right to access to information, and unjustfully gives the ISPs the autonomy to differentiate the contents providers without objective standards. Moreover, the major social issues that are surfacing after the FCC’s decision are that contents would get into a richer-gets-richer and poorer-gets-poorer cycle. That is to say, the contents would be monitorized by the mainstream contents providers’ contents. Other than the actual unjustity of the decision, the hazard exists that the large contents providers would be given the right to monopolize since they would be one of the few organizations that would be able to pay such large amount of money to get the network going on. Rookies and newcomers would have a harder time getting through the stream of contents, perhaps mainly ruled by the largest contents providers.
Twitter has been buzzing with hashtags, “#NetNeutrality.” Thousands of Internet users are opposing the government’s decision and are urging to withdraw it. Netflix, Twitter, Airbnb, Dropbox and many other Internet corporations have also joined in the protest, and even offline demonstrations have been observed. However, the government with the FCC looks real firm, and consumers are expressing concern that the power of capital is much bigger, and even the network usage needs us to pay more for it. Intolerably, now that we should pay more for a network to reach our place due to the concern that the Internet would be overly consumed, we should now be thinking onto which range would it be that we can handle by money.
By Jang Moon-Kyong (Int'l&Social Reporter)