Almost everyone has heard of net neutrality, but few truly understand the breadth of the issue. Simply, net neutrality prevents internet service providers (ISPs) from limiting access to certain websites or promoting their own content or sponsored content. In her article Court Backs Rules Treating Internet As Utility, Not Luxury, Cecilia Kang explains that in June of 2016, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the internet is a utility, which allowed the government to enact net neutrality.
Proponents of net neutrality believe that it protects the consumer by ensuring that he or she has access to all content on the internet. The court’s ruling of the internet as a utility makes the internet a tool for people to express their ideas not for the internet to project its own ideas. In this way, net neutrality protects the consumers’ First Amendment rights.
However, others argue that net neutrality violates the Internet Service Providers’ right to free speech. According to the ISPs, internet providers should be able to regulate speeds of websites in order to express their ideas. A group of broadband companies, including the small ISP Alamo, filed a lawsuit against the FCC to challenge net neutrality. The article How Net Neutrality Violates the First Amendment by Jon Brodkin explains the companies’ claims, “with prioritization, broadband providers convey a message by ‘favoring’ certain speech – that prioritized content is superior – because it is delivered faster”.
Some claim that the FCC does not have the power to restrict ISPs’ speech. However, one exception to the First Amendment is prior restraint, which states that only the US government has the right to prevent material from being published. Therefore, one can argue that it is unlawful for ISPs to block or to slow websites as that is a form of censorship, which is not protected under the First Amendment.
The debate surrounding net neutrality boils down to one essential issue: whose rights are more valid – the ISP’s or the consumers’?