Is the FCC trying to save the Internet… or sell it off?
The theory of Net Neutrality is simple: a level playing field in which (1) Internet users (you) do not have to pay extra to get better access to online content and (2) content providers (Netflix, Wall Street Journal, etc.) do not have to pay extra to make sure that their content is accessible to users.
In other words, all content (within the law) is available at an even pace with all other content. Netflix is not downloaded to your computer/TV any faster than Fox News, CNN, or Billy Bob’s blog. This is important so that the data from huge corporations is equally available with small non-profits or community organizations.
You might be asking yourself, “Why do we need Net Neutrality?” The simple answer is that the system has grown to the bursting point. There is so much data being pushed across the internet that not much more data can be fit in… therefore, prioritization starts becoming a commodity.
For a long time, the Internet has been the Wild West. First created by DARPA in the 1960’s and then tested/utilized by a combination of private laboratories and universities, the Internet as we know it today has grown in a very organic manner… wherever there was room to grow, that is where the Internet went. Today, increases are not coming from adding lines but from incremental improvements to the efficiency of the system. The problem stems from the fact that the increase in hardware efficiency are not keeping up with the increase in available data.
If this were a water system for a neighborhood, we have a water pipe designed for 10 homes… but the neighborhood now has 20 homes. Everyone is still getting water, but the output from your faucet is getting weaker and it takes longer to fill up that pitcher. In April of last year, David Shilling wrote an article showing the linear to exponential growth of human knowledge. The amount of knowledge available to us is doubling every year and picking up speed; unfortunately, the internet cannot expand as fast as the knowledge… something has to give.
In the FCC’s May proposal, the internet providers would be allowed to set up a paid prioritization system. This would create a set of “superhighways” for those willing to pay more and “dirt roads” for non-profits, small business, artists, etc. The most impactful place this might have ramifications is in political discussions. Considering the speed and type of content provided, this could easily narrow access to political discussion and reduce the range of debate. After all, who wants to wait 5 minutes for a blog to download when you can get it in 5 seconds from a major outlet?
The ISPs stand to gain billions of dollars if the paid prioritization system is put into place. They are hoping that Net Neutrality is scraped in favor of a new pay-to-play environment. On the other side of the fence is the average American who wants an open, equal internet where variety, affordability, and openness are uncompromised. It is easy to understand the business side of this… they want to make profits. They are not evil. Making money is what they are supposed to do. The fear of Net Neutrality activists is captured very well in a statement put out by the American Civil Liberties Union:
"Profits and corporate disfavor of controversial viewpoints or competing services could change both what you can see on the Internet and the quality of your connection. And the need to monitor what you do online in order to play favorites means even more consumer privacy invasions piled on top of the NSA’s prying eyes."
In the end, the question of Net Neutrality could very well determine the future of free speech, political discussion, and access educational materials to name just a few of the big issues.
As an information technology provider, we at Uncommon encourage you to join in the discussion. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has created an easy was to add your two cents to the process. Simply go to his website here, and fill out the form on the right and your opinion will be added to thousands of others.