Will Net Neutrality Ever Actually Exist?

neutralityThe debate over net neutrality rages on. Some Internet service providers have been accused of putting certain services in the “slow lane,” resulting in more frustration for consumers to access content and media. Their own services — or those of companies they’ve partnered with (read: been paid by) get better and faster service.

Given that the Internet is supposed to be free, this provides some legal and ethical dilemmas about who controls the Internet — or at least the ability of consumers to access media through it.

The Problem

As a consumer, you don’t think it’s fair that telecom companies would restrict the streaming of certain services in favor of their own. (Imagine trying to use Skype with the service stuttering and stopping, while your local cable provider’s video conferencing service working flawlessly.)

As a provider of services that are affected, you don’t think it’s fair either. You shouldn’t have to partner up with telco or pay to have your services stream without issue over the Internet. And yet, the issue isn’t as cut and dry as it seems it should be.

The FCC’s Stance

Back in May of this year, the FCC began to consider two options to deal with the issue of net neutrality: 

  1. Permit fast and slow broadband lanes, which would compromise net neutrality
  2. Reclassify broadband as a telecommunication service, which would preserve net neutrality.

This was the beginning of months of in-depth research that the FCC would do, including input from consumers at large.

Obama’s Support of Net Neutrality

On November 10, 2014, President Obama recommended the FCC reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service — essentially a utility, like power or water — as a means to support net neutrality.

Here is an excerpt from his letter, outlining how he envisions the Internet moving forward:

  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

President Obama also asserted that mobile broadband should be included in these policy changes — a smart move, since more than half of Internet usage now comes from mobile devices.

The FCC’s response to Obama’s proposal was a cautious one. The FCC is taking its time in making a decision, as it’s one that will affect us for quite a while moving forward.

The Conclusion? It’s TBD

We’re probably still several months off from a solid decision by the FCC on how net neutrality should be handled.  For now, it’s pointing the finger at brands like Netflix, who, despite being advocates for net neutrality, have also been accused of trying to get a leg up against the competition.

The argument will continue until all parties can be pacified. Is the task possible? Time will tell.



Image: PhotoSpin

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