For those of you unaware of what it is, Net Neutrality is the current debate raging between Internet Service Providers and online businesses and organizations. Recently the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) and the Obama adminstration have weighed in on the side of online businesses and organizations. More recently, Fox News and Glen Beck have weighed in on someone’s side, I am just not sure whose.
Normally it would be against my moral code to provide one more article to Mr. Beck’s Google searches, but in this case, due to the obscure nature of the debate he is warping, I will accept the karmic reduction and forge ahead. Neutral internet is the system that we have now. End-users, meaning us, the citizenry, pay a rate per month for a certain speed of connection. If you pay 30 dollars, you can get videos and text faster than the people who pay 15 dollars a month. The news from the AJC will get to you at about the same download speed as the news from us, and Skype will load at the same speed as MSN messenger.
Internet service providers have figured something out though. With the many innovations in internet speed and bandwidth, they can now control the download speed from different ISP addresses. This means that the services providers can walk up to firms or organizations with online content and demand payment in exchange for priority in the race for bandwidth.
Yes, the free market would say that if the service providers are going to charge companies and organizations in order for their content to download, then they will only be able to do so if online firms are willing to pay. However, this is not the issue of ISPs offering a new service and waiting to see how much firms are willing to pay for it. In this debate, ISPs are effectively threatening a reduction in services rendered should firms not comply, and they are not even threatening their clients, but instead their business partners, the very firms whose content drives people to pay phone and cable companies for internet each month.
Legislation proposed to regulate this new business plan would place the FCC in charge of regulating internet service, much like it does radio or television. This legislation would state that while ISPs are more than welcome to offer various internet speeds, they cannot peg content to certain speeds. If an end-user has paid for high-speed internet, all content available to that user on the internet must be broadcast at the same speed. Seems logical, right?
Unfortunately, not to some people. According to the ISPs and their current blond and screaming mouthpiece, by protecting the access to the internet that end users get, after paying for that access, the Net Neutrality bill will infringe on first amendment rights. According to the coalition against neutral access, the goal of regulating access speed has something to do with subsidizing broadband access. This could not be farther from the truth.
By giving citizens the ability to download “fringe organizations” like The Christian Coalition (which has come out for Net Neutrality) at the same rate they can download information and content from major corporations, the Net Neutrality bill will protect the free speech rights of those smaller organizations. The step from paying for preferential bandwidth access to paying to eliminate bandwidth access for a content source is miniscule. Bandwidth is an end-sum game, and by moving one content provider up in the line, you will always move someone else down, and ultimately, off the list. As the internet has been ruled a free-speech zone of sorts, using preferential business interests to reduce or eliminate the access of not-for-profits or small groups is and would be censorship.
The stimulus bill money that has gone out to support broadband access has nothing to do with net neutrality. That is a separate issue dealing with funds that were accepted by the service providers to expand end-user access to the internet that they now wish to double dip into.
As a closing note, please understand that net neutrality is a minor political issue to most people, but as Tech students, students who will manage internet start-ups or work for online publications or blogs, it is one that will affect all of our futures as end users and business people. In order to encourage a lively online business culture with low barriers to entry as well as protect free speech, the neutral platform of the internet must be maintained.