Net Neutrality and You
By George Lundberg – Computrs Inc IT Consultant
If you follow any news network you have probably heard the term “net neutrality” thrown around recently and may have wondered what the recently passed bill is about. However, few new networks have actually discussed what it is and more so how it affects you, the public. Is it good? Is it bad? Hopefully in reading this it will become clearer. First let us take a look at what exactly is net neutrality, what it means and where it came from. Then we will discuss the pros and cons of the recently passed bill. The final part will cover how it affects you and what you can expect to see in the future.
Net Neutrality by definition says that “internet service providers should allow access to all content regardless of the source and without favoring or blocking sites they do or do not agree with respectively”. So in summation it is about keeping the internet open for the public to use for whatever means they wish. Now, onto the bill that was passed yesterday, Congress has voted to change how internet service providers (ISP’s) are viewed under the law. Previously they were viewed as “information services” essentially they were seen as an online service such as Facebook or Gmail. This reclassification now says that the ISP’s are “common carriers”, companies that move massive amounts of data. Under the law common carriers must allow open and un-restricted access to all websites regardless of source, intent, or any other motive to discriminate. Now that you know roughly what net neutrality is, it’s time to decipher the good from the bad.
There are many who support the new ruling as well as many who are against it, here are some of the major points from each side. First the pros, the most significant point for them is that ISP’s should be required to allow access to any website (most of which already allow anyway) and thus want the government to make sure they are following through on this. This isn’t entirely bad; it would be nice if that was the only rule taking affect. The next item for the supporters is the un-hindered access to websites, or that ISP’s cannot speed up or slow down a connection for any reason, pardon emergency personnel. This is where it can get tricky, services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video use this to help you get a more fluid viewing experience. If every piece of data must travel at the same speed that means your twenty megabyte email to your co-worker and the five gigabyte movie you are streaming are moving at the same speed (one gigabyte is one thousand megabytes). So hopefully, you can see that this may cause slower load times and more pauses throughout your movie. Those opposed to this legislation have their main issue with a different aspect of the bill. Moving this into government hands could mean more regulations over time resulting in less internet freedom and inevitably a higher tax on internet service. The FCC has claimed they will not interfere unless one of the new laws is broken, but what happens when a new chairman steps in, there is no telling what they would do with this control. So while in theory net neutrality is a good thing, in practice it may turn out to be a completely different story.
You may already see some ways in which this will affect you, if you have not; here are the main items to lookout for. The most prevalent issue would be taxes. The internet has always been paid for and in recent years it has not been getting any cheaper. With higher tax rates for the ISP’s you can expect to see higher rates for internet services. The next point to keep an eye on is restricted websites. While some ISP’s may have been “throttling” (slowing internet traffic to a site) they were most likely not outright blocking any site that was not affiliated with a terrorist group or a threat to your privacy. With new regulations, the government has the liberty to block any site they do not agree with (though they say otherwise) and this could result in the public not being able to receive all views on an argument. For those that support Net Neutrality, congratulations it was passed into law. Any who feel this is a threat or unjust, fret not there are many calling for a Supreme Court ruling on this and many companies are preparing to file suits against it. Ultimately it is you, the public that has the final say in this battle, make your opinion known.