There has been a lot of discussion about net neutrality lately, but it’s a topic that can be difficult to understand. This article briefly looks at the recent background (why it’s in the news), and both sides of the debate. If you have any questions about net neutrality, let us know in the comments section. Thanks.
Definitions Integral to Understanding Net Neutrality
Net Neutrality is the idea that all types of information transmitted across the Internet should be treated equally, in much the same way that all phone calls across phone lines are. (image in the public domain image)
- Content Delivery Network
- A content delivery network is a large network of storage devices that are connected through Internet service providers for the purpose of providing content to end users in a high-availability, high-performance architecture.
- Network (Net) Neutrality
- At the very core of the debate on net neutrality is the belief that all information transmitted over the Internet should be treated equally, without any bias being introduced based on content, origin, or communication media.
On May 15, 2014, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve a notice of proposed changes to its classification of broadband providers, which would essentially permit service providers to engage in “commercially reasonable” traffic management practices. This has been described as opening “fast lanes” on the Internet. There have also been discussions of reclassifying broadband services providers as common utility carriers, subjecting them to increased regulation, which is where the debate arises.
The FCC has stated that action is needed regarding the classification of broadband service providers following the previous net neutrality rules, which were tossed out by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in January. Proposed legislation by the FCC is open for public comment for a period of 120 days after the initial announcement. (The deadline for the first round of comments is July 15. A second round of comments ends September 10 and is intended for people to address issues brought up in the first round.)
Rights in the Digital Age
Many proponents of net neutrality argue that a free, open Internet is essential for providing a platform to develop innovative and independent content. Without equal access to information, and, more importantly, the ability to create and publish content that is freely accessible by all, industries, especially those whose success is largely dependent on their web footprint, may be adversely affected. By permitting content providers to “fast lane” traffic to their sites, they effectively create a legal method to discriminate against providers with less money.
Competition is perhaps the single most effective democratic method for promoting innovation. Proponents argue that, by allowing the larger, tier 1 service providers to place a higher priority on content requested through a specific content delivery network, smaller content providers who are unable to pay “tariffs” to transmit their content to end users will be put at a competitive disadvantage.
Net neutrality allows small Internet Service Providers and content distributors to compete in a free market against the larger, well-established rivals. While competition may be limited at the micro-level, competition at the macro-level is absolutely essential to the overall health, efficacy, and function of the Internet. The proposed legislation allows Internet giants to utilize their massive resources to squash competitors.
Since the inception of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, the amount of usage and information transmitted across it has continued to increase every year, creating the need for additional bandwidth to be able to handle all of the traffic.
The content of the Internet has also changed. It initially began as a way for connected universities to share research information with other institutions. Now, with the emergence of streaming video content providers, the majority of Internet traffic constitutes large-bandwidth, high-consumption traffic.
Opponents of net neutrality argue that the fees charged for accessing larger bandwidth content would be used by service providers to reinvest in their infrastructure. They argue that this would ultimately make services available for more customers.
Designing for the Future
Opponents of net neutrality legislation argue that bandwidth prioritization is an essential need for the continual growth and innovation of the Internet. They also argue that broadband service providers should be able to give preferential treatment to those willing and able to pay for the ability to transmit data packets more quickly than those who are either not able or willing to pay extra. The additional revenue would then be reinvested in more bandwidth and increased expansion of their network, allowing access to more residential subscribers.
The Bottom Line
Regulation within the Internet, especially those proposing a “tiered” class of Internet service, undermines the free Information sharing philosophy upon which the Internet was created. Regulation can and will lead to pay-per-view type services, where websites impose fees for access.
The costs for this type of access will not directly be to the end user, but to the Internet Service Provider, who will adjust their pricing based on the additional overhead required to provide its customers the content they desire. These costs, of course, are ultimately passed on to the end user through additional fees for accessing the Internet. It means imposing tariffs and usage fees associated with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, chat or instant messaging services, and advanced search engines.
Our position here at Front Range Internet, Inc. (FRII) is in-line with those beliefs held by proponents of net neutrality; the Internet should be open and accessible by all, regardless of the content you seek, geographic location, or (in)ability to pay increased costs for access. However, we value your opinion and want to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please leave us feedback by posting a comment to this blog article.