Should Internet Access Be Considered a Public Utility?

In the long-running debate over “net neutrality” — whether internet providers should be required to treat all internet traffic equally — the question frequently comes up as to whether or not internet access should be considered a utility like phone service, electricity, gas or water. Here’s a quick look into the arguments of both sides.

Supporters of Net Neutrality

Many supporters of net neutrality, such as Silicon Valley tech giants and content providers, argue that broadband should be treated like a utility. Reclassification of internet providers would require that they operate by a set of rules which would prohibit them from block or slowing down certain content. This means that internet providers won’t be able to prioritize their own content and that consumers won’t have to pay an added cost to make sure content runs fast.

Arguments Against

Broadband companies are widely opposed to being reclassified as a utility, saying that it would hurt future development, innovation and discourage/outlaw internet fast lanes. Regulated utilities have little incentive to make change, meaning internet technologies would stagnate. Opposing parties also argue that public utilities do not compete and regulating internet providers like one will result in higher prices for consumers.

Going Forward

A federal court ruled that high-speed internet could be classified as a utility this past June. The decision affirmed the government’s perspective that broadband is an essential, the same as phone and power, part of American lives, and not a luxury that should go without supervision. Still AT&T and others immediately vowed they would continue to fight the decision, and the battle for net neutrality is far from over.

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