Network Neutrality and the Impact of its Potential Demise

For the past several years, the internet, its convenience, and the speed with which we can access our favorite websites is something that many if not all of us have taken for granted. Until recently, the thought that one of my personal favorite activities – surfing the web – could be changed for the worse without my consent or involvement never crossed my mind. This is probably due in part to the fact that I am often found quite guilty of taking something for granted when it is all I have ever known. However, I know that I am not the only one guilty of this. As a generation, or even as a society, we are not prone to think that something can be taken away from us very easily, especially when we live in a democratic nation like the United States where people spend extraordinary amounts of time and energy praising our rights and freedoms. When people began to realize that network neutrality, something those with the internet at their disposal have unknowingly grown accustomed to, is under threat, outrage understandably ensued. For those still unfamiliar with the term, the SavetheInternet.com Coalition definition is easy to understand: “Net Neutrality means that the Internet service providers may not discriminate between kinds of content and applications online. It guarantees a level playing field for all Web sites and Internet technologies.” From this simple definition alone, it should be quite obvious that we as consumers do not want anything to threaten net neutrality, because it is the principle that allows us equal access to any and all websites all of the time (Times Topics, 2010). However, network owners that provide service to our homes, offices, and businesses are looking to profit even more than they already do from this resource that is so widely used. They would like to do so by creating a “‘tiered’ Internet” (SavetheInternet.com Coalition). This would mean that, as the owner of a website or service, you would have to pay Internet service providers to be placed in the top tier, allowing it to run as quickly as it always has. If you do not pay, your site or service would be slowed down by the network, potentially enough to drive users away. The implications of this system are endless, but one of the arguments against it is that it would quickly put an end to internet innovation and growth as most sites would be unable to afford to pay the required fees to providers. In addition, the end of net neutrality could mean the end of access to diverse sources of information and points of view on political, economic, and social issues facing our nation and world today. This is unacceptable for many reasons, including the reality that access to any and all information is something we depend on to be well-educated and well-informed.

If your Internet experience has done nothing but improve over the past few years, you probably believe as I did: that the end of network neutrality is a distant threat or would never be allowed to happen. However, you would be wrong. In a petition submitted to the FCC in 2007, it was stated that studies done by the Associated Press and Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered that Comcast “has been degrading and blocking peer-to-peer applications, including those using the BitTorrent protocol. Subsequent studies provided evidence that Comcast is also degrading Gnutella, and even Lotus Notes” (Amori, 2007). The FCC upheld the complaint against the company, but the U.S. Courts ruled that they do not have the authority to impose net neutrality on broadband providers. However, the FCC is still trying to find a way to regulate networks. As the New York Times reports, just this past December, they approved a proposal that essentially creates “two classes of Internet access, one for fixed-line providers and the other for the wireless Net” (Times Topics, 2010). One of the major issues with the rules is that “they discourage but [do] not expressly forbid something called ‘paid prioritization,’ which would allow a media or technology company to pay the provider for faster transmission of data, potentially creating an uneven playing field” (Stelter, 2010).

Obviously, the FCC’s approved proposal is not doing the job we need it to, and thanks to several public interest groups and individuals speaking out against the proposal, the debate and legal battle over network neutrality is far from over (Times Topics, 2010). I, myself, have signed countless petitions in support of net neutrality, and I suggest that you, too, use one of the many freedoms this country provides you with and lend your voice to the argument. Your lifestyle most likely hangs in the balance.

References

  1. Amori, M. (2007, November 1). Petition for Declaratory Ruling. Retrieved from http://www.fcc.gov/broadband_network_management/fp_et_al_nn_declaratory_ruling.pdf
  2. Stelter, B. (2010, December 20). F.C.C. Is Set to Regulate Net Access. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/business/media/21fcc/html?_r=2
  3. Times Topics. (2010, December 22). Net Neutrality. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/subjects/n/net_neutrality/index.html
  4. SavetheInternet.com Coalition. Net Neutrality 101. Retrieved from http://www/savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-101
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