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Sun, Oct. 20

Blog: Net neutrality - why you should care about it

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Rules of neutrality

Net neutrality is the principle that government, as well as Internet Service Providers (ISPs), treat all data equally.

A set of rules outlining this principle was approved by the FCC in December of 2010 by a vote of 3-2. The three high level rules are as such: transparency, no blocking and no unreasonable discrimination.

However, due to the Commission's feet-dragging in publishing the approved set of rules to the federal register in a timely manner, these rules didn't officially go into effect until November 2011. Now that they are official, all ISPs in the United States must adhere to these rules.

The nitty-gritty

What all the above basically translates to is that internet content shall be open and unrestricted no matter the service provider, geography or infrastructure in which the data is consumed.

The main problem is, companies like Verizon Communications just don't want to play by those rules.

The neutrality debate in a nutshell

Net neutrality has been a hotly contested topic since the start of the new millennium when broadband internet service technology began to become readily available in many urban areas around the country.

A recent Pew study determines that broadband is considered an internet connection with at least 4 megabits-per-second (Mbsp) download and 1 Mbsp upload speeds. Currently, 70% of Americans utilize some type of broadband service in their homes for internet access. The two main broadband technologies offered in the United States are cable internet access and digital subscriber lines (DSL).

MetroPCS and Verizon initially sued the commission in 2010 following the approval of the net neutrality rules. However, the cases were summarily thrown out shortly afterwards because of the aforementioned 'gaffe' in publishing them to the federal register. Verizon re-filed their case in October 2011 just before the rules became official. They are currently arguing an appeal that the agency has no authority to regulate such issues.

Opponents to net neutrality, like Verizon, all favor some sort of data discrimination. Whether it be through a tiered service model, or an outright blockage of bandwidth, ultimately the goal is to stifle online competition through networks utilizing 'pay-to-play' environments to assert as much control over accessibility to the internet as possible: seemingly a complete affront to the concept of free enterprise.

Overturning the rules

Changing or eliminating rules put in place to specifically maintain neutral ground in regards to how networks operate should be seen as a very bad thing. However, arguments for just such actions are being brought forth by Verizon's lawyers this month in the US Court of Appeals. They believe the FCC should have no authority to interfere with Verizon's business practices. They fear these regulations could render broadband something akin to a public utility, which might be subject to further regulations in pricing.

Opponents insinuate that overturning the rules will bring 'free-market economics' back to the Internet, completely ignoring the fact that e-commerce is already a proven, thriving, billion-dollar-per-year economic model. The GOP has even politicized the issue by adopting a similar stance as a national party plank under the guise of 'Internet freedom.' Many Democrats seem to support this measure as well.

Maintaining the rules

Removing "open internet" guidelines as specified by said rules opens a big door for infringing upon the freedom Americans currently have to access whatever it is they want to access online. Is this really a change most Americans want?

If these opposing factions become successful, truly 'unlimited' broadband internet service, as well as the way we currently use the internet might forever cease to be as we know it.

Communications conglomerates like Verizon are suing the FCC because they believe that any regulations could prevent ISPs from being competitive in the marketplace.

Off the Cuff - My Take:

I say, dear Verizon, and any other greedy ISPs out there attempting to overturn the FCC ruling: your arguments may eventually prove to be effective, but in reality they are all full of malarkey. The most alarming thing is that most average citizens are likely too uneducated about this important issue to notice.

How dare I say such a thing?

Well first, let's look at the facts. Verizon is the country's second largest broadband and wireless internet company worth $130 BILLION dollars. I'm sorry, but I just don't see their competition in the wired broadband internet industry taking a huge bite out of their market share any time in the near future. If anything, the current rules are better for the allowing of free-market economics to take hold in the broadband industry.

Take rural communities, for instance: like say, hmm, I dunno, maybe the Prescott Quad-City area?! Areas like ours are prime markets for smaller, more localized internet providers. This allows for more competition, which in turn gives consumers more 'freedom' of choice.

Giants like Verizon are far too focused on mobile and wireless broadband these days, which net neutrality rules don't even apply to, to bother with acquiring or establishing new wired networks (fiber optic excluded) for smaller rural communities. If anything, depending on the scope of ownership, big providers likely lease their existing networks to these same localized providers, giving the owners of the infrastructure a percentage of the profits anyway.

Here's what the opponents believe 'Internet Freedom' means:

To translate the argument from Verizon's standpoint is to say that big internet corporations want to be "free" to charge their customers in exciting new ways, and the current rules prohibit them from doing just that. A real inconvenience for them, I'm sure.

If the opposition factions of net neutrality get their way, you better believe you could theoretically see these big communications giants get even bigger in a very short period of time. Don't be fooled: this issue is about bigger profits with the added benefit of complete control over networks, which would seem to be a 180-degree departure from the 'Internet freedom' sentiment they seem to be spinning to the public.

An example? Imagine how a subscription to cable or satellite television works: For a fee, a provider provides a service, giving the consumer access to a finite set of channels. If a user wants more channels, they have to pay a higher service fee, etc. The provider can certainly do this because they control all the access to the channels. It is a closed system to competition.

That model is entirely the opposite of how the Internet operates. The Internet is an open system of global shared networks. It was literally built that way and must always remain so for good reason. The hypertext transfer protocol ( the http://www...) was built to be the conduit, or, a virtual 'highway' of sorts. Content is the building block of virtual cities and infrastructure, I.E. websites and apps, whereas the protocol simply gets you there to access them. Without the rules net neutrality in place, we could quickly begin to see companies like Verizon put up all kinds of new toll roads clogging up these virtual highways until they are rendered completely impassible without paying extra fees.

Now, imagine a future where the internet works just like a cable provider (*shudder*): For example, The website is located on a network server owned by XY Internet Company. Any users on AB Internet Company's service (or any other non-XY service) must pay an additional charge to XY Internet to access the site, and so on, ad infinitum among owners of various networks until most of the internet becomes pay-per-view. If you think login screens are a pain now, just wait until every network requires a unique key for access!

By the way, these access fees would be IN ADDITION to any flat monthly service charge for basic internet service you would currently be paying. Sounds fun, right? What could possibly go wrong there?

Thus, supporting net neutrality seems the only logical choice to truly keep the internet 'open' and 'free' for Americans. Overturning these rules of fairness gives preference to a few giant internet service provider companies (and their bottom lines) over the needs and demands of the individual consumer.

And last but not least, for the folks currently enjoying access to streaming video, or use voice-over-IP services to make a phone call on a regular basis using services such as Netflix and Vonage? Well, you could also be affected if net neutrality is overturned. ISPs would then be 'open' and 'free' to throttle down your bandwidth to modem-like speeds, or even cut out your access completely, forcing you to use their proprietary bundled services for an additional fee, of course. How can free enterprise truly thrive in an environment such as this?

Thanks for reading, and as always, your thoughts are truly appreciated.

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