This is likely not the first time you’ve heard about the war over net neutrality and it certainly won’t be the last. The long debated issue is still being fought as talks have recently heated up in the White House, among the FCC, and throughout large corporations.
But what is really happening? Why are we still talking about this and is there anything we can do to preserve the open Internet as we know it? We decided to take a look into the furious net neutrality argument and go over why you should deeply care.
What is Net Neutrality?
The current Internet as Americans use it today is a neutral place for the free exchange of ideas to fly across your computer screen and mobile device. You can liken today’s Internet to a Reddit thread or the comments in any news article as good examples to demonstrate the absolute freedom we have on the interwebs.
Tim WU, the Columbia University professor credited with coining the term, describes net neutrality in these terms:
“Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. This allows the network to carry every form of information and support every kind of application. The principle suggests that information networks are often more valuable when they are less specialized — when they are a platform for multiple uses, present and future.”
Sounds Good, Who Would Threaten That?
As the open Internet climbed to the raging popularity it mightily commands today, capitalists of all kinds pitched the idea of creating a sort of a tiered system to the Internet. This would give preferential treatment to those who have more cash. For example, a large corporation with a boat-load of money could pay to have their site send information faster than those who can’t afford it. The topic for and against net neutrality has been a fiercely fought issue for well over a decade, but recently became a bit more complicated.
Those in favor of shifting the Internet to a tiered service argue that if there are companies that can afford faster data delivery, they should be given that option. Again, ending net neutrality is simply a matter of how fast the information is delivered. Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) see this idea as a win because they could separate preferred sites – sites in the “fast lane” – so that users would blame the actual site rather than the ISP for the poor performance of sites not in the fast lane.
The reason the issue became even more hotly debated is because in 2014 politicians became more involved than ever before. In April 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a stab at net neutrality by releasing a proposal that suggested broadband companies could provide Internet “fast lanes” for those, like large corporations, that could afford to pay a higher fee. As previously stated, this would mean that smaller companies with littler wallets unable to afford the higher fee would suffer in terms of content delivery speeds and would therefore have to compete with a significant disadvantage.
Crap. So What’s Next?
The issue caught the attention of the White House, which seemingly supports the principle of net neutrality. In a statement released in November 2014, President Barack Obama took a side:
“We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
Since then the FCC has responded and allegedly will be revising their proposal. They will soon vote on new terms yet to be determined, but FCC chairman Tom Wheeler suggested in an op-ed just days ago that he will push for net neutrality. “These enforceable, bright-line rules [in the new proposal] will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply — for the first time ever — those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”
And now, we wait. The future of net neutrality now rests in the hands of the FCC, which will meet on February 26th to vote on the next phase of the battle over open Internet. Wheeler has proposed that, “the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections. Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.”
We will soon see if this will become a reality when they vote on the 26th.