Remember ‘net neutrality?’ It was all the rage just a few years ago. While most internet users probably don’t care much about the topic, it’s an important issue for our time. Why do I care? My husband works for a telecommunications company. What affects him, affects me, so here we are.
The idea behind net neutrality is rather simple. Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the internet equally, not favoring or discriminating or charging different rates based upon user, platform, or content.
Sounds fair enough, right?
The problem in the U.S. is that very large telecommunications companies own chunks of the pipes that deliver internet goods and they want to get paid for their usage. Too often the likes of Netflix and Amazon and Google’s YouTube use those pipes too much. The latest proposal from the FCC says broadband internet providers can’t block or slowdown websites, but can take the money from those willing to pay for a so-called fast lane.
Netflix started the fast lane snowball rolling down the hill and now it’s turned into an avalanche. I understand the need for service providers to recoup their bandwidth and facilities investments. I understand the need for content providers to have full access to the bandwidth to deliver their content unimpeded by arbitrary slowdowns.
Here’s the problem. A fast lane, as proposed by the FCC, and obviously loved by internet service providers, by definition automatically implies a slow lane for the rest of the internet’s traffic.
In other words, Netflix paid internet service providers to have a faster lane to deliver streaming movies than TeraTalks can afford to buy. A fast lane requires a slow lane to be fast. Netflix and others get fast lanes, everyone else gets slow lanes. Or, in the alternative, slower lanes– unless they’re willing to pay more money.
President Obama hails from a life with roots in Chicago (by way of Hawaii and parts known but not agreed to by some), and as a presidential candidate said this about net neutrality:
Q: Would you make it a priority in your first year of office to reinstate Net neutrality as the law of the land? And would you pledge to only appoint FCC commissioners that support open Internet principles like Net neutrality?
A: The answer is yes. I am a strong supporter of Net neutrality… What you’ve been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you’re getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites… so you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you’d be getting rotten service from the mom and pop sites. And that I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet — which is that there is this incredible equality there.
So much for equality, and so much for net neutrality. Fast lane performance is now available to the highest bidder.