Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you have likely heard of the term Net Neutrality. Our world has been so politically charged, and sure, there have been more headlining news than this, so people may have glossed over the titles and opted out of learning about Net Neutrality. What is net neutrality? Why does it matter in your life? Read on to find out what you need to know about net neutrality, and how changes in the law could affect you, your family, and your business.
What is Net Neutrality?
To put it simply, Net Neutrality allows all users of the Internet equal and fair access, regardless of what they are doing on the internet. To compare it to another home service, let’s talk about electricity. Your electric company provides you with electricity when you pay the bill. You don’t pay more or less based on what you plug into the wall, you merely pay for the electricity that you use. Likewise, net neutrality allows you to pay for the internet and use it how you choose.
Why tech start-up companies and icons such as Hulu or Netflix support net neutrality. They support net neutrality because their services rely on the internet to be used and operated within your home at no extra expense to you or them.
Why giant cable companies are not in favor of net neutrality. Currently, giant cable companies (think: Comcast) and cell phone providers (think: Verizon) have restrictions on their pricing. They cannot charge people more or block access to certain sites. If they were able, cable providers such as Comcast could easily do away with, or charge additionally for, say, Hulu which is giving the Comcast customer free access to shows that they would otherwise be paying for with a higher cable package.
Net neutrality has been an endless fight between telecommunications and tech lobbyists since the 1990’s. Although it hasn’t received the front page news as often as immigration and border patrol, it is worth knowing and understanding. With the importance of the Internet in our daily lives, and the way we rely on it as a service, it is arguably more personal to many of us than other hot ticket items.
Here is a walk down memory lane to give you an idea of what net neutrality is, long before it was referred to as such. Think back to 1999 when you were trying to download music in your college dormitory. All you wanted to do was make a mixed CD of love songs for your then boyfriend. The problem was that you couldn’t get to Napster while on campus, because the university gods were able to control the IP addresses that they allowed. This is referred to as a blockage of IP address. Someone, somewhere, decided that certain IP addresses were not appropriate or worthy, and blocked access accordingly. It seemed unfair at the time, and there was nothing you could do to change the outcome, short of leaving campus.
To put it into today’s standards, Napster = Netflix. Many of us pay our minimal monthly fees to Netflix because we know that grants us unlimited viewing of popular movies, hit tv shows, and all of the cartoons our children could ever want. Moms everywhere get to shower simply because Netflix exists. Netflix exists because cable companies have not historically (during the Obama era of net neutrality) been able to block, or restrict, this online streaming. Again, net neutrality ensures that sites and servers cannot be discriminated against, or charged more for access, by the cable companies that are allowing the Internet to pour through your wi-fi routers.
What is Net Neutrality: The History
In 1934, the Federal Communications Commission was created to ensure that consumers had fair and reasonable access to telegraphs. Years later, telegraphs turned to radios. Radios turned to telephones, which turned to televisions, which later turned to the Internet. Here we are today, in 2018. We are surrounded by more technology and innovation than the year 1934 could have ever predicted. We are faced with unlimited streaming options and endless browsing choices thanks to open Internet.
In 2015, thanks to a rapidly changing use of the Internet and our understanding of its’ potential, regulations were put into place to prohibit certain things from happening, which some could have claimed as unjust. This included:
Paid prioritization means optimizing data transfer rates for edge providers (Think: Google, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook) in exchange for payment. This creates the possibility that big media sites would have a fast pass of sorts and would swallow up any chance of smaller start-up tech companies ever having a viable chance at survival. Critics of net neutrality feel that some edge providers should be required to pay extra due to the fact that their services eat up so much bandwidth on broadband networks.
No matter how spammy or devalued the site is, ISP’s are not allowed to discriminate against lawful content under net neutrality.
Internet Service Providers cannot and will not slow down the transmission of information based merely on the nature of the content.
According to the Internet World Stats, the USA ranks 3rd in countries with the highest Internet use amongst its population, coming in around 327 million people. That means that 327 million Americans rely on Internet access on a daily basis. A large majority of that same percentage of people rely on affordable Internet options to allow them to work, live, be social, and thrive within their every day lives. Net neutrality is a large part of what makes this possible, and the fear of many is that ending net neutrality will end the open and fair access. But is that the case? Only time will tell.
The Current Status of Net Neutrality
As of December 14, 2017, the FCC announced that they are dismantling the rules that govern Net Neutrality. In doing so, this could easily reshape the online environment that Americans have grown accustomed to.
Is the ruling a done deal?
Many say no. Or should I say, many hope the answer is no. As is the case with most things, laws and revisions to laws take time. The official roll-out is far from complete, and the backlash is only just beginning.
How states are responding
Since the ruling, 21 states and the District of Columbia have already filed lawsuits to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s decision. In congress, only one more vote in the Senate is needed to repeal the FCC ruling. Amongst the lawsuits, the state of California holds the first judge to repeal the repeal. Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly. If it isn’t now obvious that net neutrality has seen more back and forth than a Venus vs. Serena match, I don’t know what more I can say. Net neutrality is heating up, and every time a decision appears to have been made, it is obvious that a long term solution is far from over.
Signature sheets have made their rounds, yet the lack of positive interest on this issue did not play a significant role in the overall outcome. Late night TV hosts have performed their bits, the FCC has released their standing, and states have filed lawsuits. I think all Americans can agree that net neutrality appears to be yet another disagreement for lawmakers in Washington. One thing is certain: No one has any credible predictions on what this all means for the future of the Internet. Times have changed since the days of creating the FCC, and thereby so has the role that the Internet plays in our daily lives. Below are a few scenarios that could play out now that the FCC has repealed net neutrality laws.
Restrictive Internet Browsing
If you are an American that has spent any time in other countries for work or pleasure, you are likely aware of what restrictive Internet browsing can look and feel like. On a recent business trip to China, one Midwestern man noticed that he was unable to get to a certain web browser on his laptop. Although this isn’t entirely comparing apples to apples, as this was the case of government allocated rights in a country outside of the United States, this is a clear picture of what restrictive Internet browsing is. Depending on how net neutrality all shakes out in the coming weeks, months, and years, we could be faced with similar situations here on US soil.
Paying for Facebook and other social media sites
Right now in America, we browse the Internet at our leisure. We pay our Internet service provider our bill, and are left to our choosing as to what we want to stream, download, browse, view, and upload. Our service providers could begin to charge higher rates for sites that require greater bandwidth, or require payment from higher streaming services which would undoubtedly trickle down to consumers using those services. In countries such as Portugal, where net neutrality rules have never existed, Internet providers are able to split the Internet into packages. If that would happen here in the US, families would need to decide if they want to pay extra for a social media package to access popular sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.