Net Neutrality is a contentious issue that has been all over the news recently. However, what it actually means, how it will effect you as a customer, and how you should feel about it are points people are still confused on, so if you’re one of those people who still feels kept in the dark about this whole issue, then this is what you should be reading!
Net Neutrality, put simply, is the idea that “all traffic is equal”, and your internet service provider (ISP) should not be able to charge you more for certain sites or restrict your access to others. Essentially, net neutrality stops popular internet service providers from dictating the sites you can see. The ISP’s may choose to promote a site they are affiliated with, for example Comcast is affiliated with NBC, and may strangle the connection to its competitors such as ABC. They could also charge you more for very popular sites such as YouTube, and severely restrict access to torrenting sites such a BitTorrent.
Why Is Net Neutrality So Important?
Net neutrality is so important to the whole basis of what the internet is; a place of easily accessible entertainment and information that you’re free to explore at your will. The internet is really the only place left that doesn’t suffer from censorship, unless illegal, which makes it unique from almost all other sources of information or entertainment. Newspapers can choose what stories to print, your cable TV chooses what shows you can see, and you have to pay more to see more, and if net neutrality becomes a thing of the past then the internet could be heading the same way.
The FCC’s Decision
The court ruling on the 19th of February 2014 now means that ISPs have to uphold net neutrality, but have “the right to build special lanes” with faster connection speeds. These faster connection speed ‘lanes’ would be for companies such as Google, Disney and Netflix who are willing to pay a higher price for this. This gives their customers preferential access, while other’s not using these sites will experience a slower, although perhaps not noticeably, connection speed.
Why The FCC’s Decision is a Bad Idea
Put simply, it could completely change the internet as we know it. The ruling is a bad decision for a whole host of reasons, which I will go into now:
This could be a gateway for more control and censorship on the internet
Preferential treatment being given to some of the biggest sites on the web may just be the first step in a long line of changes we are yet to see. An investigation by Freedom house found that in 2013 there was a significant decline in internet freedom in countries across the world due to new laws, government involvement, and people being held accountable legally due to social media outbursts. Perhaps we are already heading towards a less free and a more controlled internet, and laws like these only serve to hasten the issue.
If the internet moves away from net neutrality it could effect small businesses negatively
Think of it working somewhat like google ads work currently, businesses have to pay more to have their company or product promoted on the first page of a keyword google search. An internet without net neutrality would not only still contain this but also the added problem that if you aren’t paying for a premium internet package and connection to your site is slow, small businesses will just become swamped by the giants out there simply because they can’t pay for the extra connection speeds.
Disillusion of Ideas
The idea that the FCC are upholding net neutrality whilst implementing these new rules is false. By giving preferential treatment to those who can pay more is by definition discriminating those who can’t. Eric Klinker, chief executive of BitTorrent Inc, has said on the issue “For technologists and entrepreneurs alike this is a worst-case scenario, Creating a fast lane for those that can afford it is by its very definition discrimination.”. BitTorrent is likely to be one of the sites that will never be given preferential access.
Upholding Net Neutrality With This Ruling Is Difficult
In 2010 the FCC made rules that the ISPs had to uphold, these were;
- Transparency: Providers had to be open and honest about how they are managing their networks
- No Blocking: They cannot block access to legal content
- No Discrimination: They can’t favor one traffic source over another.
However implementing these when the FCC has relatively little control may be an issue. It is almost important to note that there have been concerns over the past few years that even without the recent ruling that some ISP’s have become too powerful. The main example of this is the trouble Comcast got itself into in 2007 when it did restrict access to BitTorrent.
The FCC’s ruling in February could mean a huge change to the internet as we know, in coming years. The Wall Street Journal recently commented “In all likelihood the Internet will gradually move from being a one-size-fits-all service to one where users or content companies can — or have to — pay more for better service or higher volumes of traffic,”. The internet is the only free form of information and entertainment out there, you can choose what you want to see, do, play with complete autonomy (within the legal boundaries of your country). To move away from this will have a whole host of negative consequences from reduced freedom to the expansion of already huge businesses at the detriment of smaller businesses.
The internet should simply not be regulated the same way phone and TV cable services are since the internet is fundamentally different, it’s an information platform and not a telecommunications device, once you start to restrict access to information it’s a slippery slope before more freedoms are restricted, and this is what it comes down to, you shouldn’t have to pay extra for the freedom you’re entitled to!