The Internet is so integral to our daily life that there’s a tendency to assume it will remain the free and open medium it has always been. It’s easy to take for granted that it will continue to be a place where we can always access any legal content we wish, and where the companies and individuals delivering content don’t play favorites just because they disagree with the message being delivered or want to charge more money for faster delivery.
But that vision is currently in jeopardy.
If new rules under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) come to pass, the open Internet — and the “network neutrality” principles that sustain it — would end. Both what you can see on the Internet and the quality of your connection could change.
What exactly is net neutrality? It’s the belief that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not favor or prioritize one bit of information over another, which could ultimately affect an end user’s access to that data.
Currently, FCC rules provide for a neutral approach where no type of data has higher priority than any other type. The FCC is considering changing these rules to allow ISPs to prioritize Internet traffic, potentially “throttling” other traffic. These proposed changes will greatly impact our Internet computing environment.
There is some confusion on this subject, so we’re hoping to break it down more clearly. As Nelson Granados of Forbes writes, “At its core, it is a pretty complex technical problem to understand, let alone the legalities around it.”
Under current FCC rules, an ISP is prohibited from speeding up or slowing down traffic based on whether you’re checking your email or watching Comcast on Demand, Netflix, or YouTube. ISPs are also prohibited from blocking specific websites in lieu of granting access to others (except for legal blocking of sites), or pricing Internet services differently based on the content accessed. (ISPs of course should be — and are — allowed to charge for different tiers of service at incremental price levels.)
Under proposed FCC rules, large companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, YouTube, and others could pay more money to prioritize their traffic over the traffic of smaller companies. This could penalize smaller companies that aren’t in a position to pay. A customer’s Internet experience would then be weighted in favor of those companies that are paying more.
Just to clarify, this does not necessarily mean ISPs will speed up service for those companies willing to pay more. It could simply mean service for those companies would operate at the speed you’re used to, but service speed for the companies unwilling or unable to pay would be throttled. Think of it this way: If tomorrow, your state enacted a policy where drivers could pay a fee to use one lane of the highway and were then allowed to go the speed limit, and in the other lane you could drive for free but could only go half the posted speed limit, you might have some harsh words for your representatives.
Large ISPs argue that their costs for building new infrastructure under the current rules don’t incentivize them to expand and invest. Forbes concludes, “While onerous policies to regulate ISPs are more likely to ensure the Internet remains neutral, over-regulation and vague rulemaking can create uncertainty for ISPs, which may discourage investment and innovation.”
Another factor to consider in the United States, which further complicates this issue of investing in infrastructure, is that “a large number of people in the U.S. have little or no choice at all on who provides their Internet access. The country suffers from a severe lack of competition in the broadband business. Nearly one-third of households in the U.S. have either no choice for home broadband Internet service, or no options at all.” (Wikipedia) This is due to a company’s high infrastructure costs when setting up a network able to compete with existing broadband ISPs — particularly in rural areas. While the list of broadband providers in the USA is impressive, broadband Internet access providers in the United States with more than one million subscribers at the end of Q1 2017 number just ten.
While we at Connectech are sympathetic to the infrastructure concerns of ISPs, historically the Internet has been a level playing field for all participants, and we believe it should remain this way. For the benefit of end users and content creators, we oppose the current FCC proposal under consideration.