THE LATEST ON NET NEUTRALITY (A Q&A)
“Should Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Comcast and Time Warner, be allowed to charge websites for priority access to their customers?”
This is 2014’s wonky question that has spurred widespread debate across the internet, the FCC, and even the courts. Put simply, the FCC is currently considering whether ISPs have to treat all online content equally, or if they can be selective about the websites their customers see based on which sites are paying for “fast lane” access.
Join our Q&A to learn more about what Al Franken calls the “First Amendment issue of our time.”
Q. What is Net Neutrality?
A. Net neutrality is the idea that ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner have to treat everything that flows across the internet equally. Whether it’s some huge giant like Google, or some unknown mom and pop site like Bing (sorry, Bing – although your landing pictures are magnificent), no site’s content can be slowed or boosted, despite whether those sites are competitors, or simply want to pay for the boost.
If ISPs don’t have to treat all online content equally, many fear a negative impact on small startups who have traditionally used the internet as a beacon for innovation and growth.
Q. Why does it matter?
A. If you’re still buying encyclopedias and aren’t a fan of the cutest kitten videos EVER, then it probably doesn’t. But for consumers, an unregulated internet means ISPs giants can be selective about the websites you see, regardless of whether you’re on an “unlimited plan.”
So, Hulu Plus might be a super cool concept, but you’re not going to wait 20 minutes for their site to load if Netflix.com is paying your ISP to stream its content at light speed (and slow Hulu’s to a snail’s pace). Similarly, if Verizon allows Huff Post to pay for faster streaming content to Verizon customers, in a deal that includes hindering access to Fox News, Verizon is essentially encouraging more users to a certain political viewpoint (we won’t say which), when it should be up to users to decide.
And thus the internet, once a driver of innovation and free market spirit, is no longer so freely accessible. Tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, and Google argue that allowing larger tech companies to pay ISPs for putting their websites first, hinders the ability of new Amazon’s, Google’s, and Yahoo’s to emerge.
Now, there’s not some sinister, evil plan to eliminate all competition going on, but the net neutrality debate is something that does affect competition, and it matters.
Q. So who is against regulation?
A. Not just the ISPs! In fact, some attribute wireless innovations to deregulation. Do you think we’d have the iPhone 6 if the government was still running the phone system? We might even still have dial-up. A nasty thought. It is also feared that allowing the FCC to even slightly regulate ISPs is the first step toward full government control of the internet. Highly unlikely, but a warranted concern.
Some even argue that we’re looking at the debate all wrong. Tim Wu, the man who coined the term “net neutrality” some years ago, says that the real issue is our limited choice of ISPs, especially considering that Comcast is looking to acquire TWC.
Q. What’s most likely going to happen?
A. Most likely, ISPs will be required to accept Net Neutrality. If that’s not something you’re on board with, you’ll be happy to know that our opinions do matter! Roughly three months ago, the FCC took comments from the public about what regulation should look like. They received 3 million submissions that temporarily overloaded the site (some attribute John Oliver’s sort-of-fact-based rant for that one), all of which they are currently categorizing and considering.
A quick decision this will clearly not be.
The current split of opinion is expected to lead to a stronger final net neutrality result. The two Republican commissioners are steadfastly opposed to the concept, but it is expected that Wheeler will win the votes of the other two Democrats. If Net Neutrality passes, it will be on a 3-2 vote. So, if you’re philosophically aligned with sterner regulations on the net, smile.