What is Net Neutrality, and Why Should I Care?

FCC Net Neutrality

Amid the swirling of planes, drafts, and weather, a potentially world-changing piece of technology news has been drawing scrutiny and outcry: FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s intention to propose new rules concerning an “open Internet,” and then swift announcement that he would revise his proposal based on public outcry.

Why all the fuss?

“Open Internet” is the FCC’s term for what is commonly referred to as net neutrality – the principle that everyone should have equal access to everything available on the Internet; in other words, Netflix streaming is treated just the same as streaming from YouTube or Amazon. Because many of these Content and Application Service Providers (CASP) eat up a lot of bandwidth, and an increasing number of Internet Service Providers (ISP) are also getting into the content business, there is a worry that a company such as Time Warner would show favoritism to content from one CASP.

Why would they do this?

Because there is money to be made. The ISP  might charge the CASP for the right to get priority treatment. Or worse, they ensure that their own content works much better than a similar offering from a CASP competitor.

In his proposed rules, Wheeler was going to allow exactly that – under his new system, CASPs would be able to strike deals with ISPs in order to receive “preferential treatment.” Make of that what you will, but many people cried foul and argued that these rules would open a digital Pandora’s box of payola, all at the expense of the user. Critics, ranging from Google and Facebook to Wheeler’s colleagues on the commission, are demanding a dialogue on the topic, and the FCC is beginning to open it up.

Why should I care?

There is a finite amount of bandwidth between the CASP and your home. And this bandwidth is shared by lots of end users and lots of CASPs. If Netflix could pay a small fee to an ISP, then their service may work better than the Amazon Prime service. ISPs argue that they need the extra money to make sure that users get a great experience because it will help them invest more in their networks. CASPs (who, in general, are against allowing preferential treatment) argue that this will stifle innovation.

How could it stifle innovation?

A new start-up CASP may find that they can never get their service to work as well as the preferred CASPs – so very few people ever end up subscribing to their service.

How else can it impact me?

Ultimately, you’ll pay more to those CASPs that are paying for preferential treatment — the money has to come from somewhere.

ISPs argue that giving preferential treatment to some CASPs won’t impact all other CASPs. Frankly, I find that concept comical and it isn’t possible for it to be true. If someone truly believes it, then they just don’t understand how content moves across the Internet.

We believe in an open Internet and that Net Neutrality should be preserved.

Technology often moves much faster than people can react to it, and this argument over an open Internet is a great example of how staying informed on the state of technology will become more and more important going forward.

Is there anything I can do?

The Washington Post outlines in this article how you can file an official comment through the FCC’s website.