The Internet has become an insurmountable force in the daily life of almost every human being on planet earth. From quick searches and online collaboration to Internet gaming and video streaming, the Internet has made many things seemingly impossible, possible. A key factor in this beautiful technology is its openness. That is where the issue of network neutrality comes into play.
This article attempts to explain the current state of this openness and the proposed laws that attempt to shake the ground of this openness and equality the Internet was built upon. By comparing and contrasting the two sets of laws, this article points the reader to a conclusion that the new network neutrality laws being proposed are unfair at best.
Today, the access to limitless information is taken for granted. At any time, almost from any place, any person can have unlimited knowledge at their fingertips. The development of the Internet has given us the ability to know anything at anytime. Whether it is to research a school project, check sports scores, or find that song that is stuck in your head, you can find it with the click of a button almost instantly. But what if that was to change?
One of the key aspects of the Internet is that any website is uploaded onto a device at the same speed as any other website would be uploaded. This fundamental idea is known as network neutrality. Network neutrality is the reason there is no discrimination from one site to another. In other words, the Internet is a level playing field where big corporations and small hometown businesses are treated equally. At this point, the speed of the Internet is not owned by anyone. This allows for competition in business and keeps the world balanced and not controlled by a single person or corporation.
Net neutrality also allows all sources of information to be accessed without discrimination. In this aspect, net neutrality is often equated to intellectual freedom. That is, “the right of all peoples to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction”. (Network Neutrality) Net Neutrality should always be here to makes sure that if it is on the Internet, whether it is good or bad, it can be accessed equally.
At present, the Internet experience most Americans are familiar with is governed by the principle of network neutrality. Despite this, many Internet users remain unaware of the important role net neutrality plays in maintaining a free and open Internet. This is largely because net neutrality is actually implemented in the equipment and connections that make up the structure of the Internet, which most users don’t often directly interact with. As a result, its effects aren’t always obvious to someone without technical knowledge on the subject of networking.
When a user accesses a web site, the content is broken up into a series of packets. These packets are then forwarded through a chain of routers, which may be owned by different ISP’s, until they arrive at their destination. When a packet of data arrives at a router, it is placed in a queue along with packets from other computers (Sharp 9). Since each of the “tubes” the router is connected to has a limited capacity to transfer data, only some packets in this queue can be forwarded at any given time. Under net neutrality, incoming packets are removed from the queue and forwarded in the order they were received. In other words, the packets are waiting in a line, and it’s strictly first-in first-out. Without net neutrality, ISP’s would be free to assign higher priority to certain packets, based on their source, destination, or other criteria. For example, packets containing video data from YouTube could be allowed to cut in line, forcing traffic from competing websites to wait longer and thereby diminishing the quality of their service. Although net neutrality is seldom noticed by the average Internet user, its effects are very real.
One sign of net neutrality in action that is the binary nature of Internet access purchases; you either have access to the Internet or you don’t. A modern ISP won’t offer access to a certain subset of all available content, as one might expect when purchasing cable, satellite, or other subscription services. All websites are made available with the purchase of Internet access, with the main difference between service packages being the total amount of bandwidth made available for the consumer to use. However, any web site or network can be accessed equally using this bandwidth, with the data transfer speeds limited further only if the server running the website can’t send data back fast enough to make full use of the customer’s available bandwidth.
The idea of having equal access to all web sites has created a level playing field for companies of all sizes to compete in. With some technical skill, any small startup company can be just as easily found on the Internet as a large company with an established web presence. Many of today’s most prominent web sites owe their existence to the principle of net neutrality. Imagine if Google had been forced to pay extra fees to Internet service providers or have their site load significantly slower than an established competitor. With competing start-ups forced into the slow lane, large corporations with enough money to make these kinds of deals would have dominated the Internet (Virtual 75-76). Consumer choice and freedom would surely have suffered as a result. Internet service providers should not be given the power to pick winners and losers in the Internet marketplace, but the removal of net neutrality would all but guarantee this corporate takeover of the Internet.
Large corporate companies have been in a long and sometimes bitter battle in the United States over the proposition of new network neutrality laws. These new proposals are laws that would allow companies who act as Internet service providers(ISP’s) to moderate and charge for the speed at which data is passed between public networks. These laws also propose to allow companies to provide faster services to companies and users who pay a premium to each ISP. (Joch, 14)
Cable and phone companies say that they need to be able to control the delivery of web content to maintain the performance of their networks. AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast are some of the biggest proponents of these potential laws. These companies believe it is their right to control and monitor the information that flows through their networks and services, even if the user is not in direct contact with said companies. These companies also want permission to give preference to certain websites over less used websites. For example, YouTube.com would be given “special privileges” or faster access by the user over a local business website This would allow for these companies to generate more income via services provided to all Internet applications across the country. (Bogardus)
The outcome of these new laws would cause companies that provide Internet services, or content providers, to pay each ISP a premium in order to provide the content fairly to all customers. If this premium is not paid, the services could be significantly hindered by the ISP in areas where the content provider cannot afford to pay the premium fees. Along with these premium fees, companies want to be allowed to charge for “bytes” of data they supply, similarly to how people are charged for the use of gas or other physical commodities. The problem with this idea of charging for “bytes” is that the data is not a physical or limited quantity and does not require transportation in the way that other physical commodities do.
The rules that have been proposed could have detrimental affects on small businesses, college students, non-profit organizations, and the average Internet user, which encompasses most of the country. If these laws were put into effect, the Internet as we know it could be changed forever.
Proponents of Net Neutrality have put forth a piece of legislation to the FCC to look over. This is the FCC docket 09-93. In this docket, proponents of Net Neutrality say that the FCC must protect and enforce the four policies stated in the Internet Policy Statement of the Communications Act of 1934 that was amended in 2005. The four policies are things that citizens of this country take advantage of on a daily basis.
The first of these policies is that the FCC is to encourage the deployment of broadband to the country and to preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet. This means that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice. So, this means that any users of the Internet here in the United States are able to access any website they want as long as illegal activity is not taking place. An example of this is that a user can visited Facebook as much as they wish without interference but as soon as that user crosses into a website dealing with illegal activities, such as downloading of pirated movies, the user can lose their access to the Internet.
The second policy is that the consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of the law. This means that users can use any Internet application, or application that accesses the Internet or Internet Services, as long as it is not used to violate the law. So a user is free to use Netflix as much as they want to watch movies and TV shows, but that user is not allowed to go and download movies and TV shows through an application like Bittorrent.
Policy number three that needs to be protected is the policy that says that consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network. This is a two-sided policy. First there is the concept of legal devices. A legal device is a device that is solid in retail that has gone through the proper testing to make sure it meets all standards. So a device purchased over the black market would be considered an illegal device. The second part of this policy is that of harming the network. A legal device can be used to harm a network. In this world of smart phones and mobile applications, it is easy to turn a legal device into a device intended to harm a network – hacker applications are an example of this.
The final policy that needs to be protected is that consumers are entitled to competition among Internet Service Providers, network providers, applications, and content providers. This is that, just as in the free market concept, you the user are entitled to your choice of providers. If your current provider is not meeting your standards, you can change who your provider is. These policies are the cornerstone for maintaining the open and interconnected nature of the Public Internet. The next two policies, additions the proponents of Net Neutrality believe need to be protected, are drafted to prevent the removal of Net Neutrality.
The first of these new policies is that the FCC is to require an ISP to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner. This is how the current model of the Internet is, no matter who is the user’s ISP, that user has access to anything and everything on the Internet, as long as it doesn’t violate any of the original four policies. Opponents of Net Neutrality believe that services should be unique to the ISP, thus meaning that the user does not have access to everything on the Internet.
The last of the new policies is that the FCC is to require an ISP to disclose information concerning network management and other practices. Currently ISP’s look at header information in the packets of data coming through their routers. A new practice coming about is the concept of dissecting the packet and looking at the full content of the packet. From here, the ISP could sell the information in the packet to whomever to start creating personalized advertisements and spam emails related to what the user was looking at while connected to that ISP. This is a major break in security. The ISP has no right to look at what the user is looking at.
The new net neutrality laws proposed will affect the individual greatly. The new laws would drastically hinder the speed of local websites that the average person accesses on a daily basis. For example, a local news station may not be able to afford the higher Internet speeds. Therefore, the people who access these websites would be put in the slow lane. This invades the daily lives of most of the population.
The proposed Net Neutrality laws are, at the very least, unfair to small businesses. They would mean that the creators of websites would have to pay the Internet providers to run their websites at the faster speed. This makes it easy to see why it is unfair to small, start-up businesses. The larger corporations could easily pay the fee to be put into the fast lane of the Internet, but smaller companies would struggle to make those payments. This would cause those companies to lose business when their customers have the choice of waiting to access the small company’s website or instantly access the larger company’s website.
There is one clear way of preserving the current model. This is overthrowing the Federal Government. But since that is not how civilized people act, that way will not be feasible. So, the way to prevent change of the Net Neutrality model is that you the user write to your congressmen urging them to support keeping the current model. Also, since most people do not have time to make fighting this issue the main focus of their life, you can donate to the cause at SaveTheInternet.com.
Net Neutrality is one of the fundamental ideas on which the Internet is built. The internet maintains the “level playing field” status. It is clear to most people that this is the way the Internet is meant to be. No one controls it, people can just add to it. No websites are deliberately served faster than others. It should be based on the design and idea of the website whether or not people visit it, not based on which website loads faster.
With this status being threatened by big corporations, what will become of the Internet? Will the speed of the Internet be sold to the highest bidder while everyone else is left in the dust which will create monopolies like the world has never seen? Or will people voice their opinions and bring reason, not greed, back to the minds of our congressmen and save the Internet?
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United States, FCC Docket 09-93