On February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the policy more commonly known as “Net Neutrality”. This changes the way that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can regulate the Internet traffic that passes through their connections to their customers. With Net Neutrality, this policy now regards ISPs as carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, regulating these services as public utilities.
With this Open Internet Order, it helps to resolve the issue about how the Internet operates. ISPs must be a neutral gateway. Instead of prioritizing broadband traffic based on cost, the Internet will remain a level playing field for small and large business alike. The threat of charging more for a web traffic “fast-lane” to Internet content providers like Netflix and YouTube would result in costs for users increasing, as those costs are passed along to their customers. Small business websites would have no chance in competing with national chains and their deep pockets. For many, the Open Internet sounds like a good idea.
There are also those that have their reservations Net Neutrality. With the FCC involvement, some say that government regulation is being forced on a non-existent problem. However, Comcast had already started putting the screws to Netflix, among their many other unsavory business practices of late, so the threat did exist. Others say that with government involvement, there will be privacy concerns and the potential for censorship. My personal opinion that that privacy is dead and if you still have those expectations, I’m afraid that went away a while ago. If you are online, you are exposed.
One opponent, Mark Cuban, has been vocal about the new policy, but he makes valid arguments regarding the transmission of television content. These days, the signal for cable and Internet travels over the same lines. With Net Neutrality in place for unprioritized Internet traffic, the same argument could apply for cable television content. Currently, networks have to pay cable companies to play that content. A neutral network would negate that pay-to-play arrangement. It all boils down to data on a wire; where do you draw the line? He also argues that the pending litigation will stifle innovation, but that’s a hypothetical outcome from a billionaire’s perspective.
Now for my opinion: I think that Net Neutrality is a good thing. The floodgates had begun to slowly swing open with Comcast, and while other ISPs hadn’t joined in, they were ready to go. We’ve seen speeds for broadband Internet service increase, but prices have increased as well, and unlimited bandwidth is a thing of the past. We are charged for the data we consume. ISPs are making money from every possible avenue and charging for “toll-road” speeds to content providers was next. As a small businessman, having my website load at the same speeds as the “big guys” is good. Regarding privacy concerns, I’m realistic in my expectations. If I put it online, it’s not mine anymore. Whether the government actually admits to monitoring everyone, I assume they do. It’s safer that way for me. I do think Cuban’s question regarding the blurred line between cable and Internet traffic is valid, but his anticipated consequences, while possible, sound biased.
Like it or not, Net Neutrality is here. For most, this new Open Internet won’t amount to any noticeable changes. But understand that there will be big changes, and we’ll all just have to wait and see what this “freedom” affords us.