Ever since Donald J. Trump took office and appointed Ajit Pai as head of the FCC and net neutrality was being mourned. It’s absolutely understandable that internet users all over the world would feel like net neutrality is under threat especially considering Pai’s stance on the classification of internet service providers as Common Carriers of a utility by the Obama Administration and his pronounced plans to reverse it. However, what many might not understand is that the internet was never truly neutral, not internationally. And is an international network ever neutral if only in some places? Many large corporations have been pretending to fight for a net neutrality they’re actively killing overseas for a sort of PR grandeur. Don’t be fooled by them.
The idea of net neutrality is that all content should be treated equally by providers, as to not give certain content an unfair advantage or infringe on users’ freedom to choose the content they want to be delivered to them. To this end, governments around the world have drafted and passed laws forbidding companies from discriminating against content or giving certain content preferential treatment. Those following the fight can point at the FCC’s 2015 decision to reclassify broadband access as a telecommunications service as a victory for net neutrality, if not its greatest victory. It meant ISPs could no longer make access to a certain service slower or faster than to another, the same way your phone company can’t make phone calls to certain lines clearer than others. The previous lack of net neutrality regulations in the US, for example, led companies like Netflix to pay ISPs fees to enjoy unthrottled access for their customers (https://www.theverge.com/2014/3/24/5541916/netflix-deal-with-the-devil-why-reed-hastings-violated-his-principles) and internet users finding themselves unable to access the BitTorrent protocol for P2P file sharing (https://www.wired.com/2007/11/comcast-sued-ov/).
Now, in theory, guaranteeing users in any place of the world have unrestricted access to all content is definitely a good thing, whether it be the United States or elsewhere. However, in practice, if net neutrality rules are only enforced in certain places, the very thing these rules aim to prevent becomes a reality regardless. Upkeep of bandwidth-heavy services comes at a high cost, and when a market in the first world is already dominated by large corporations, competition becomes only possible in the third world. Large companies like Google and Facebook realize this very well, so they will quickly come to support net neutrality when the debate is over its status in a market they already dominate, such as the American market. (https://www.wired.com/story/day-of-action-internet-protests-google-facebook-reddit/) At the same time, both these companies have programs aimed at developing countries masked as charity and aid but are nothing more than tactics to achieve monopolies there before anyone else has a chance to even exist.
Facebook Zero and Google Free Zone are two among other programs by large corporations that are marketed as if charitable efforts to help people in developing countries make use of the conveniences of modern technology. In reality, they have the potential to destroy the internet as we know it, not only for people in the developing world but around the world. By having such an unfair advantage over the competition, local competitors can no longer even exist in many countries in the world. This means all profits that can be made through online services end up going to companies in Silicon Valley, who will not even deliver the bare minimum promise of reinvesting those profits into the same markets. The costs of upkeep for ISPs will no longer be paid for by customers, but by Google, Facebook and other major corporations instead.
Effectively, the cost of neutral internet access becomes higher as there are fewer people paying for it. The ultimate result of this is a slow death of diversity in content online, as a greater portion of users in these countries will increasingly have no access to anything outside of a select number of sites. With that in mind, companies and independent content creators even in the first world will be left without even new markets to target for a chance to grow. The ultimate ends of this could be the internet turning into a copy of the global food industry, but for bits and bytes.