Net Neutrality: The Future is Up for Debate

by Aeyne Schriber on June 15, 2014 in Internet Service Provider

Net Neutrality which is also known as open Internet, enables free speech and protects our rights to open communications online. Recent proposed rules by the FCC now threaten to crush Net Neutrality.

The future of Net Neutrality is now up for debate as the result of a vote by the Federal Communications Commission in May of 2014. Many Internet users say that the termination of Net Neutrality will significantly change the online experience and even deprive you of your right to free speech and open online communications.

Prior to May of 2014, the FCC proposed rules that would break Net Neutrality and open the door to online discrimination. The proposal provides Internet Service Providers with the authority to create a multiple tier Internet with tolls imposed to use the fast lane plus, a slow lane for Internet users that cannot afford the additional fast lane fees.

The FCC proposal caused great controversy among Internet users and currently the issue is up for debate. Internet users are trying to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from moving forward with the proposed rules by voicing their opinions to the FCC.

The Effect of the Demise of Net Neutrality

If you are unfamiliar with the effect that Net Neutrality can have on the future of Internet communications, here is a simple scenario of how the elimination of Net Neutrality can impact the Internet as we know it today.

When you download any type of content from the Internet, it is delivered in packets of data. So, in the case of a service like Netflix, when you download a movie, it is delivered in data packets. You can think of the packets as actual packages that are being delivered to your doorstep.

When you select a movie to watch on Netflix, it is delivered in a series of information packets. Once you place your order, Netflix ships the movie however, the package must first go through a sorting facility. In the case of your Internet Service Provider such as Comcast or Verizon, the ISP is your sorting facility.

With Net Neutrality, your package will be delivered to your doorstep at the same rate as packages ordered by other Internet users. If the FCC changes these rules, a company such as Netflix or Hulu would have to pay an additional fee to ensure their packages are shipped on the first truck.

If the fees are not paid, the company would have to settle for shipping packages on the second or third truck. Although this still means the packages will eventually arrive, it also means that you could be in the middle of watching the latest movie release when the video suddenly terminates while waiting for the next packet of information to arrive.

The video streaming example above is only one scenario. The demise of Net Neutrality also applies to messaging and communications when your Internet Service Provider determines who gets to send messages quickly and who must settle for the slower connection. This has many serious implications in its own right.

If you send a message to your recipient over a slow connection while another Internet user’s message goes to the same recipient over a faster connection, which one do you think is going to be read and heard? This can have a significant impact on many aspects of the Internet in terms of democracy, commerce, emergencies, and much more.

As Net Neutrality is open for debate until July of 2014, there are over one hundred online companies such as Google and Facebook that support Net Neutrality. The online companies represent one side of the debate.

On the other side, is the cable companies that are hungry to become more than just a pipeline for providing communications. Instead, they want to play a more significant role in controlling online communications by being free of any legal restraints. This means that the Internet Service Providers would be able to charge for preferential treatment and be empowered to discriminate against online applications and content.

It also provides ISPs with the power to block free speech and prevent nonconformist voices from freely expressing themselves online. Additionally it provides them with the authority to interfere with online commerce as an open marketplace and level playing field for startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. Major telecom giants also have a lot of pull when it comes to lobbying in Washington.

The main figure to keep your eye on is Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Although he claims to be in favor of Net Neutrality, the problem is that he was also a former lobbyist for the cable industry, in addition to being a huge fundraiser for the Obama campaign. He is also in favor of forging ahead with proposed rules that would pave the way for open Internet rules that would be legal.

The position on each side of the debate is very clear but, what about users of the Internet? Net Neutrality is typically a topic that is misunderstood by Internet users which results in a lack of passion for this issue, but this could change. Net neutrality will become obvious to users once they notice the changes are in effect and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Net Neutrality in the News

During May of 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to allow a public debate regarding new rules that guarantee an open Internet. The vote was passed by a margin of 3 to 2.

An open Internet refers to the Internet as we current know it. Our current Internet provides a level playing field where Internet users can decide what types of content they want to access as well as make choices regarding which services or applications to use.

The Federal Communications Commission claims it wants to ensure that the Internet remains a level playing field that empowers entrepreneurs and consumers, provides a platform for creation of jobs and new innovations, offers a place for freedom of expression, and more.

The FCC Proposal as quoted from the FCC website is as follows:

The FCC is currently considering a proposal for rules for the open Internet that would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted. The proposed rules would ensure:

1. Transparency: That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network

2. No Blocking: That no legal content may be blocked.

3. No Unreasonable Discrimination: That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.

Before the proposal can be finalized, Chairman Tom Wheeler will need to convince a variety of lobbying organizations and colleagues that the FCC proposal closely follows the concept of Net Neutrality. This means the telecom giants will simply remain the pipeline for communications with all content being treated equally.

Supposedly, the purpose of the proposed rules are to prevent Internet Service Providers and telecom giants from slowing data transmission on purpose. The problem is they would also open the door to allow ISPs to charge content providers an extra fee to access a fast connection that is guaranteed. This actually discriminates against other content providers on the Internet and this concern has been expressed by advocates of Net Neutrality.

To argue against this concern, Tom Wheeler proceeded to say that the proposal does not allow ISPs to provide a fast lane. At the same token, the proposed rules do not mention anything about the connection between the ISP and the consumer or anything about the backbone transport networks that help to establish connections for essential parts of the global Internet.

Basically what Tom Wheeler is saying is that as long as ISPs do not slow down the connection it sells to the average consumer, they can still charge an additional fee to companies that want a guaranteed fast lane for delivering content to their customers.

Public Feedback

The recent proposal by the Federal Communications Commission in May 2014 invites public feedback. The feedback pertains to whether or not the FCC should ban practices that prevent consumers from accessing online content equally using an open Internet or whether high speed Internet service should be reclassified as a utility, to name a few issues.

Public feedback can be submitted to the FCC until July 15, 2014 with a September 10th deadline to file responses to the initial feedback submitted in July. You can submit feedback on the FCC website by clicking on the blue Take Action button.

Why Consumers Should Care About Net Neutrality

The FCC claims that the proposed rules would coerce the Internet Service Providers into improving the way in which they explain how they manage Internet traffic to consumers. This proposal was upheld by the federal appeals court where the proposed rule that prevents ISPs from blocking content was subsequently struck down by the court.

The FCC also said it would implement a “commercially reasonable” standard to determine whether or not an Internet Service provider is unjustifiably discriminating against specific content. Tom Wheeler also said preferential service would be given to emergency and medical providers.

An interesting point was brought out by Matt Wood of Free Press in the video we have provided below. He mentions that telephone service providers do not block calls to specific numbers or prevent you from calling specific people. This is one of the primary reasons the demise of Net Neutrality is unjust and way out of line.

Conclusion

Net Neutrality and the open Internet is based on the concept of an existing open marketplace and is the primary reason why everyone has equal access to the Internet. The current state of the Internet is mostly based on a set of professional ethics with no actual rules or legislation to govern otherwise.

This may not seem like an issue right away, but what if we allow the ethical aspect of the Internet to be eliminated? This means that the Internet Service Providers and other telecom giants will be able to decide what we can and cannot access on the Internet. This includes charging additional fees for websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that we currently access for free. This is why solid legislation that authentically protects Net Neutrality is essential to the future of commerce, our right to free speech, and our right to make choices when accessing content online.

Strong legislation means that your Internet Service Provider will not have control over filtering or blocking Internet traffic in pursuit of their own interests and benefits. On the flip side, another concern is that solid legislation may have problems in its own right due to past situations where the regulations that surround legislation have not worked in the way they were planned and in fact, were actually abused. This makes many people wonder whether or not things will be different this time.

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