In Defense Of: Net Neutrality

Get Ready For a Restricted and Costlier Internet

Next month, the FCC will be voting to repeal Net Neutrality rules. Net neutrality, for the uninitiated, is the concept that the internet should treat all network traffic equally. Essentially, this means that no particular company or set of data should be given priority over others. That the FCC is voting to repeal these sets of rules governing this concept is a big deal. Why? FaceTime.

Internet Service Providers can decide that customers need to pay more for the privilege of being able to use the full functionality of their devices.

FaceTime is a video chat app found on modern iOS devices. It is baked into the core functionality of the operating system and, because of the ubiquity of iOS, it’s very popular. I’ve seen people using FaceTime standing in line at the grocery store (by the way, don’t do that). In 2012, AT&T decided to block the ability to FaceTime over their mobile networks unless customers paid for a plan that specifically allowed for it. In fact, between 2007 and 2009, AT&T didn’t allow any video chat apps to run on their network at all. AT&T decided that customers had to pay more for the privilege of being able to use the full functionality of their smartphones.

It goes on. A little while back, Comcast was found to be intentionally slowing connection speeds to Netflix in order to promote their own Video On Demand content. Held hostage by Comcast, Netflix eventually reached a deal with Comcast to pay an undisclosed amount of money in order to “fast track” their connection speeds. Similarly, Microsoft struck a deal with Comcast regarding the Xbox 360’s ability to use Comcast’s Xfinity app without affecting data limits – other apps like Netflix and Hulu did not have this ability.

The wholesale repeal of Net Neutrality threatens to usher in an era of restricted content and censorship.

The FCC has already held hearings and voted on this topic already, but the new head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is requesting another vote. Pai is in favor of removing net neutrality rules – not surprising since Pai is a former Associate General Counsel at Verizon. During his time there he dealt with competition and regulatory issues, some of which included initial pushback on earlier net neutrality campaigns. Given the lobbying of special interest groups with prior ties to Pai and his former employers, the FCC seems to have a vested interest in allowing Net Neutrality rules to vanish.

Net Neutrality rules are designed to keep the internet open and accessible and that’s a big deal.

The wholesale repeal of Net Neutrality threatens to usher in an era of restricted content and censorship. Without Net Neutrality, companies are free to manipulate data streams over their networks any way they see fit. Spectrum could have an agreement in place with Microsoft to allow full-bandwidth speeds to Bing, for example, but slow or limit connections to Google. Time Warner could decide they don’t want their customers to use Netflix or Hulu unless they pay more money to access them. Data caps and throttling could be imposed and competition and innovation could stagnate, all in the name of higher profits.

These days the internet is as essential as electricity and water. Our cities run on it, our livelihoods depend on it, we use it for knowledge sharing and learning opportunities, and to stay connected to each other. Net Neutrality rules are designed to keep the internet open and accessible and that is a big deal.

I’m obviously in favor of Net Neutrality rules. Whatever your stance on Net Neutrality may end up being, it’s important to take the time to be educated on what it is and how it might affect you. If you feel that Net Neutrality should not be repealed, let the FCC know – December 14th is right around the corner.

 

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