The issue of net neutrality highlights an interesting example of how competing interests dictate (or attempt to dictate) the rules and norms related to the infrastructure of the internet. Net neutrality refers to “a network design paradigm that argues for broadband network providers to be completely detached from what information is sent over their networks. In essence, it argues that no bit of information should be prioritized over another.” (UC Berkley).
In the US, big telecom companies have used their considerable resources to lobby the government (Verizon alone spent $100 million to lobby Congress on net neutrality since 2009) for the ability to regulate broadband. They want to collect money from big websites like Facebook and Amazon to guarantee that their customers have “fast lane” access to the services they provide. The FCC (which happens to be chaired by a former top lobbyist for the cable industry) was considering a plan that would allow this to happen.
The public played a big role in the issue – a comment period on how the FCC could protect and promote an open Internet resulted in millions of responses from private citizens (3.7 million to be exact). The public had the opportunity to weigh in, and the consensus was that they oppose the FCC’s proposal and want to keep the internet free.
The ongoing issue of net neutrality is about whether the internet should remain open. Does the FCC (in partnership with internet service providers) have the right to alter how the internet works? The competing interests here are diverse: small businesses, large companies like Netflix and Amazon, internet service providers like Comcast, private citizens, and, various parts of the government, such as the FCC, congress, and the executive wing.
At this moment, the Internet is an open and democratized system in which anybody can post their idea to be fairly judged. Hopefully it will stay that way.