The net neutrality debate has been gaining momentum as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released a proposal that opens the door for broadband providers to charge customers for faster service. Up to this point, Internet access has remained neutral with broadband providers giving equal access to all users and content.
A Brief History
Network neutrality began in the 1800s with telegraphs. When the telegraph started becoming a common form of messaging, however, transmitter terminals prioritized government dispatches and moved them to the front of the line so they could receive faster responses. Though our technology has evolved immensely since the telegraph, the main premise of neutrality is still an issue.
In late 2010, the FCC issued an Open Internet Order, which said that Internet service providers (ISPs) could not block, slow down, or discriminate against data flow across networks. By doing this, the FCC made net neutrality a government regulation instead of a generally followed rule of thumb. ISPs were not satisfied with the FCC watching over their service and networks, though.
Verizon Communications challenged the order, and a lengthy process resulted in the FCC’s newest proposal to allow ISPs to charge a higher fee for faster service. That brings us to the heart of the debate. Should ISPs be allowed to give preference to those who place a monetary importance on their content?
Why Fight for Net Neutrality?
A neutral network ensures equality for all content. Those in favor of net neutrality are concerned that the control of data is at risk if ISPs can screen content. By doing so, ISPs will have the power to select and prioritize content as they see fit, due to money or other reasons.
Granted, most businesses with in-house websites are still limited by the bandwidth of their Internet drop. Yet the ending of net neutrality indicates the potential for ISBs to prioritize some customers’ traffic over others. Either way, an unfair tiered model will be put into place, where small websites such as tech bloggers could have to pay increased fees or face discrimination.
Further, an open network gives small startups the same access to the Internet as jumbo sites like ESPN.com. Our current business world is filled with innovative startups. So, imagine if they couldn’t make it past the startup phase because they couldn’t afford the fast streaming necessary for their customers to access their content easily.
Proponents of net neutrality further worry that the dissolution of neutrality will result in ISP monopolies. The pending Time Warner-Comcast merger is already threatening to control nearly 40% of the U.S. broadband market and upwards of 30% of the nation’s cable.
Couple that with President Obama’s appointment of Tom Wheeler, former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, as chair of the FCC. Some worry that Wheeler’s vested interest in protecting cable companies will lead to an unfair advantage favoring ISPs that disregards the interests of the general public and startup websites.
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Why Fight Against Net Neutrality?
The argument against net neutrality is valid as well. For example, some critics say that the government has no role in dictating how and why ISPs regulate streaming. Proponents of net neutrality are worried about monopolies held by large telecoms, but in a sense the government is the largest monopoly of all.
Generally, institutions managed by the government aren’t the most well run, including health care, higher education, public schools, and the post office. Those against net neutrality see more room for network innovation and competition when the government is removed.
Further, the success of a website hinders on the connection provided by ISPs. Netflix attracts millions of customers, yet it does not have to pay more than a standard connection fee. The ISPs see no gain in profits even though they are a main factor in the quality of the connection.
Netflix also is taking away business from cable providers, who often are ISPs as well, as more consumers choose to stream movies and TV shows to their screens instead of paying for cable television. In a sense, the ISPs are losing out twice. The solution for ISPs is to create a “fast lane” for websites interested in prioritized streaming.
ISPs are investing billions of dollars into making their infrastructure the fastest and most reliable, which requires frequent updates and significant time. If they have a financial motivation to provide faster service to those opting to pay more, chances are they’ll be more invested in creating innovative solutions, resulting in better access and availability for everyone.
It’s Up to You
It’s all a matter of perspective. Both sides have valid arguments that hurt and help the other side. For now and for the foreseeable future, the debate will continue to move forward with passionate supporters for and against a neutral network.
Karl Volkman, the chief technology officer of SRV Network Inc. in Chicago, Ill., is an IT professional with over 30 years of experience. Previously, he was the director of technology for New Lenox School District 122 in Illinois, the chief information officer of the Habitat Company in Chicago, and the manager of networks and communications for John Nuveen and Company. His certifications include HP, Microsoft, Cisco, Adtran, Objectworld, and Cymphonix. His capabilities include IT management, planning and technician, telecomm technician, programmer, DBA, and technology instruction.