Thursday 15 May, 2014
Net neutrality is a big issue in the news today and that’s a good thing. It should be a concern to everyone who enjoys the internet and the free, open online society it creates.
Net neutrality refers to the fact that the internet doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s wide open and free for everyone to use. All web traffic is treated equally and everybody gets a fair shot. Preserving net neutrality is what keeps the free flow of information free.
The Threat to Net Neutrality
The reason it’s in the news today is the announcement by the FCC of new rules regarding internet usage. Consumer advocacy groups are calling the passing of these regulations the death knell of net neutrality. The FCC says they’re just misunderstood.
The specific reason for the outrage is a part of the regulations that sets aside a ‘fast lane.’ For a bit of payola, companies can pay internet providers to give them more speed. This gives them the ability to reach more web browsers. Of course, if there’s a fast lane, there’s also a slow lane. The slow lane is for the folks without the money.
How the Fast Lane Works
By allowing a fast lane, the new regulations basically allow providers like Verizon, AT&T and Warner to decide what websites you can see. They can’t block sites, but they can give favor to certain sites by offering them faster internet connections. To put it as basically as possible, they can discriminate. They could become the gate keepers of the internet, deciding who passes and how fast.
Why This Is Bad for Everyone
There are a number of reasons why this isn’t a good thing. For you, it means a loss of consumer choice. You won’t be able to choose faster service for the sites you like. The providers will choose.
It’s likely that these new regulations will mean the end of free content everywhere online. Experts predict that a new business model where companies pass the price of high speed on to consumers is likely to emerge.
It’s likely that this will slow down innovation. Innovation occurs with small start-ups, not huge corporations. As the big companies pay to get on the fast lane, the innovators will be chugging along at turtle speed. Google and Facebook could’ve never become the household names they are today in an environment like this.
The FCC Response
The FCC says it will monitor to make sure that consumers and innovators aren’t getting fleeced. It says it will make sure there is still plenty of competition and there are no monopolies. In their own words, they’ll make sure everything is ‘commercially reasonable’ and it’s stipulated in the new rules that the FCC can intervene. It has also stated that there will continue to be a baseline at which all connections work. While some sites get speedier access, none will be slowed down.
Whenever there’s a huge change to our internet like this, I always ask my perennial question: What’s wrong with things as they are now? In other words, what’s broke and needs fixing? It seems like a way for big companies to gain an unfair advantage, as if they don’t already have that.
There’s a chance that this is all just hysteria whipped up by the mass media, which loves to make proclamations about the death of this or the end of that. But it’s good that it’s in the news because it has brought the important concept of net neutrality into the mainstream.