BY MELANIE BUCK –
As the FCC passed new regulations last week preventing Internet service providers from deciding whether to allow faster downloads on certain sites, the term ‘net neutrality’ has become the newest in an ever-growing vocabulary category of ‘what does that mean and how does it affect me?’
Statistics show that in 2014, around 40% of the world’s population had an internet connection. In 1995, less than 1% of the world population had internet. The number of internet users has increased tenfold from 1999 to 2013. The first billion users was reached in 2005; the second billion in 2010; and the third billion in 2014. The United States has almost 280 million users, accounting for almost 87% of the population, but less than 10% of the world’s internet use.
The Pulse sought the expertise of local broadcaster, Chris Daniel, who has been in the business and working in conjunction with the FCC for close to four decades. Daniel opposes the FCC’s net neutrality and says that control is just what the government will take. “There is just so much information, how it’s going to affect the consumers is different than how it’s going to affect heavy users.” Daniel said, “It reminds me a lot of Obamacare, it’s about control. Net neutrality doesn’t seem to me like it’s a fair component. There’s all kinds of arguments out there. At the very least, it’s confusing. Everyone has a different take on it. The White House has been pressing this situation for a long time. I personally think it’s a huge slam on free speech.”
The easiest way to describe net neutrality is to say, it’s the idea that all internet traffic be treated equally. In layman’s terms, some sites pull more ‘juice’ than others and it can bog down servers and slow down upload and download speeds. Popular sites such as Netflix tend to pull a much greater amount of ‘juice’ than say, a blog. Currently, there are no restrictions on what content you can access, view, download, or upload.
However, service providers such as AT&T and Verizon believe that sites that pull a vast amount of service should have to pay extra for that service, or be slowed down to allow other sites to function faster. This comes on the heals of Comcast, who provides digital TV, high-speed internet, and home phone services, losing a court case in which they were found to have violated Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy by restricting traffic requiring large amounts of bandwidth from passing through their network. Net neutrality requires service providers to be a neutral gateway instead of handling different types of internet traffic in different ways and at different costs. Or, as Damon Beres of The Huffington Post put it, “The regulations aim to ban Internet service providers (ISPs) from giving preferential treatment to companies that would pay extra to get their content to consumers.”
Comcast challenged the FCC’s authority to regulate the internet to which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed. After the Court of Appeals released their decision, the FCC vamped up their efforts to reclassify broadband internet as a telecommunications service in order to assert its authority to regulate the use of the internet.
According to Wendy Boswell, Web Search Expert, “Basic public infrastructure, such as subways, buses, telephone companies, etc., are not allowed to discriminate, restrict, or differentiate common access, and this is the core concept behind net neutrality as well.” An example given by Boswell was, “a mom talking about her kids has the exact same opportunities to be heard online as the millionaire giving a talk to his stockholders via podcast. Without net neutrality, this opportunity would be limited at best, and completely throttled at worst.”
Since the FCC passed net neutrality on Thursday, February 26, broadband is considered a public utility, like electricity or phone service. Republicans have launched an investigation into whether it’s legal for the FCC to have such authority.
Opponents of net neutrality like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, companies that provide broadband services, say that companies such as Netflix should have to pay more money for the amount of bandwidth that they use. Beres points out in his article that, “Netflix accounts for over one third of downstream internet traffic” during peak use hours in North America.
Beres summarized by saying, “With net neutrality protections, everything must be sorted and delivered in equal measure. Without them, Netflix could, in theory, outbid Hulu for premium delivery on your Internet provider, slowing rival services to a halt and giving Netflix’s streaming program a leg up in the marketplace simply because it was able to pay for it.” Netflix is a proponent of net neutrality because to them, “a free and open internet is key to allowing innovation.”
So what does all of this mean to you? Right now, not too much, as the regulations are staying in place. However, in the future, if the FCC loses the battle, you could be paying a fee to watch YouTube videos at full speed, or to download music. Or, you may be choosing channels just like you do for cable or satellite TV.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the policy will ensure “that no one — whether government or corporate — should control free open access to the Internet.”
Although the government says that there won’t be any cost to the new regulations, Daniel argues that there has to be money to enforce the regulations. “They say there won’t be fees or taxes involved but where will the money come from? Small town radios, TV stations, and internet service providers, all have real serious concerns about what they’re going to have to do to comply, such as reports, those things cost money. It could turn into a charge on your bill, because the cost will be passed on to the consumer. It will be built in to rate increases. They have already farmed out their services to third party call centers in other countries to save money. It’s just going to be one more thing to cost them and the consumers’ pockets.”
Daniel said, “I would encourage people to take a hard look at it. It’s going to slow down rural broadband growth. For a new business that wants to locate in Mena, they need good, fast dependable broadband and if they can’t get that, then they’ll go somewhere else until they see how this is going to affect places.”
As is with new legislation, the debate will continue and the long-term effects to the consumer will only be revealed in the years to come.