Should You Care About Net Neutrality?

June 6, 2014 Stephany Toman permalink

binary dataThe concept of Net Neutrality is pretty democratic in nature – everyone’s data flows at the same rate, and said data (content and communications of different sorts) is freely transmitted without discrimination or interference by ISPs(Internet Service Providers). Congress ensured, in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, that ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, for example, were prevented from creating essentially an information Autobahn and an information cobblestone path, which would have benefited big business and thrown the rest of us onto the path of much resistance and very very slow communications. Countless small businesses have reached their intended audience without fear of undue filtering, fees or interference as a result.

It has been said that companies like Google and Facebook would never have realized the enormous success they have enjoyed if the Internet had been structured favoring big money. If they had been forced to stay on the low, slow, pay-to-play path from their inception, they’d never have become the household names and key players in modern search, content, and social media that they’ve become.

The Internet is currently considered an information highway, and, as such, has remained outside of normal telecommunication fee structures and rules. This designation was intentional, and when Congress enacted the rules they understood how critical the ISPs’ roles were as gatekeepers, and preventing undue blocking or filtering was the primary goal – keeping things fair and truly ‘open’ from a data transmission standpoint was the driving ideal.

All was well in the land, and then things started to get complicated as they tend to do when big information and big money factor in.

In 2010, the FCC created an order that was intended to prevent broadband Internet service providers from blocking or interfering with traffic on the Web. The Open Internet Order was generally designed to ensure the Internet remained a level playing field for all — Net Neutrality would have been safe.
Then in January 2014, a court ruled that the FCC used a questionable legal framework to craft the Open Internet Order and now lacks the authority to implement and enforce those rules. The court didn’t rule against Net Neutrality, it simply ruled against the FCC’s ability to enforce Net Neutrality. This means the rules ensuring Net Neutrality, ie free use, access, and freedom of speech and privacy, are no longer enforceable by the FCC.
In May, 2014, more proposals, these driven by the FCC’s own Chairman, were laid out, allowing ISPs to charge higher fees to content companies like Google and Netflix for preferential treatment, thereby in effect creating that two tiered Internet that Congress, way back in 1996, wanted to avoid entirely for fear of choking commerce and creating a very unlevel playing field indeed.
The remedy, then would be for the FCC to re-desginate broadband communications as telecommunication services from their current designations as information services. In other words, the FCC needs to revise its prior work and reclassify Internet access services as telecommunications services under the law and treat ISPs as common carriers.
For the sake of brevity I’ve not detailed the step-by-step process that has led to this juncture, so if you’re interested in an more exhaustive study of this current nuttiness, Net Neutraily: What You Need to Know is helpful. There are lots of articles out there outlining the issues facing small business should the FCC not reverse their prior designations about providers, so a Google search of ‘net neutrality’ will turn up a plethora of viewpoints with various passion behind them.
Everyone is passionate about the need to keep the Internet a level playing field, it turns out, and in this case all the emotions and driving concerns feel very well founded. The privilege to conduct business to compete against those with seemingly endless resources and have a real chance of succeeding is a strong motivation if you’re one of the small guys, which the majority of us are.

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