When the President of the United States makes a public address and plea to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make tougher regulations on something, you know it’s a big issue. And that’s just what President Obama did Monday when he urged the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
With 84 percent of the U.S. population using the Internet, any changes to public policy or law concerning online use will be affecting millions. That is why Internet use and access is such a big issue.
Let’s back up and start with net neutrality itself. The term was coined in 2003 by a media law professor at Columbia University named Tim Wu, who argued common carriers should operate through “net neutrality” to ensure an open Internet still exists.
The most basic way of describing and defining net neutrality is by saying it is a principle or a concept where all online data should be treated the same, regardless of the user, website, platform, mode of communication or equipment used.
Website providers, however, believe that in the free market capitalist economy in which we operate, that those that own the hose should be able to control the flow of the water. Utility companies operate in a similar fashion and it is a generally accepted business practice.
“Ever since the Internet was created, it’s been organized around basic principles of openness, fairness and freedom,” Obama said in the video. “There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access. There are no toll roads on the information superhighway. Abandoning these principles would threaten to end the Internet as we know it,” Obama said.
Not everyone is as convinced as the President. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas went to Twitter to voice his disdain over the President’s position: “‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.”
Preferential Treatment for Those That Pay
In America, if you want an upgrade you usually have to pay for it. Internet providers feel that same principle should be applied to online connection speeds. The FCC was quick to intervene, or in the least, put principles to paper, that spell out who can limit or grant what kind of connections.
Last May, the FCC began the process of making formal rules concerning net neutrality and control.
“The rules proposed by Wheeler, whom Obama appointed last year, could allow preferential treatment for some companies willing to pay broadband providers for faster content delivery,” said LA Times columnist Jim Puzzanghera.
If it was as simple as paying for the $100 dollar ticket to the game as opposed to the $50 seat, the issue wouldn’t be so polarizing. But in the case of net neutrality, you’re not picking your seat at all. The Internet is the arena, and if you want in, you will have to show up and go to the seat they give you. Individuals can’t necessarily pay for a bigger seat—the companies control that. If your corporation is big enough you can get a box seat, but for the rest, you will deal with the connection that is available to you.
Here is a clearer picture of how it works: recently, the investment consultancy group NEPC did a research study looking at the Internet providers Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink and AT&T. The study found that those providers were “intentionally squeezing data coming from some incoming networks — in particular, networks associated with Netflix, which competes with these companies in video entertainment,” stated the report.
So it’s not that you can just pay money for a faster speed—the Netflix and similar entities will have to do that and you will be left with whatever provider is available at whatever speed they wish to offer service.
“Every argument against net neutrality I have read assumes perfect competition for internet business at every doorstep in order to be logical; even then, it’s usually argued that this competition will have the same effects on pricing as the FCC implementing basic controls on content discrimination right now. At best, anti-net neutrality is free-market fantasy. At worst, corporate shilling,” said IT expert Russ Fink of MKG.