Net Neutrality may or may not be a term you've heard of but it's definitely one that's worth knowing about. Net Neutrality is basically the principle of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) not restricting or prioritising traffic for commercial or competitive purposes. The problem is, in the US the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) wants to put an end to Net Neutrality.
Today, the 12th of July is quite a special day as several large companies are displaying pro Net Neutrality messages on their sites. Here's a couple of examples:
Twitch (Game Streaming Site)
Namecheap (Domain Registrar)
Reddit (Social News Site)
(There's many others taking part in this event including Amazon and Netflix. They're aiming to get Americans to write to the FCC urging them to keep the Net Neutrality rules. Here's a couple of links to the sites they're promoting:
Why should I be for Net Neutrality?
It almost seems a bit silly talking about this as to me it feels like these things should be a "basic right" and are a core principle of the internet. Anyway, here's a few reasons why you should be for Net Neutrality (which you probably are anyway... I'll talk about this in a minute):
- It stops companies like Google and Facebook from paying for preferential treatment - either allowing access to the so called "fast lanes" or blocking the competition all together.
- It stops ISPs charging users or websites access to the "fast lanes" they'd create.
- It stops ISPs effectively limiting freedom of speech by allowing ISPs to prioritise certain TV networks or News sites.
- It stops ISPs from charging extra for certain types of traffic (such as streaming).
- It supports a competitive internet where everyone has equal access and thus opportunity.
Who's against Net Neutrality and what's their argument?
This is where I'm slightly puzzled, I've read several statistics that have all said the majority of Americans are for Net Neutrality (60%~) and around a half of those left are against it (15-20%) with the rest not knowing or having an opinion. So, the chances are you're already for it anyway. Also, if you're not from the US (as I presume will be nearly everyone reading this) I can't see how the decision on Net Neutrality won't affect the rest of the world. For example, if Netflix has to pay more so people can watch their content they're going to raise prices, right?
The argument against Net Neutrality seems to be based around the disproportionate amount of traffic used by streaming sites such as Netflix and YouTube. Basically, they claim that these sites are using much more bandwidth than other sites but not paying any extra. They also say that because there's this ever increasing demand for bandwidth they're having to invest more even though most of this demand is generated by a handful of sites.
I really don't understand this argument. It presents the image that Google, Netflix, Facebook etc are paying a flat rate for the data they use like the rest of us. This simply isn't true. They pay based on gigabytes used - well it's more like petabytes used but hey. Yes, they will have a discounted rate because they "buy in bulk" but that's the sort of discount anyone transferring large amounts of data could get. This also nullifies the argument that as transmission capabilities of ISPs are increased sites aren't paying any extra. The fact is, if they can transmit data faster it doesn't matter because they're still paying for what they use.
Let's look at this from a different point of view. Who benefits from the Net Neutrality regulations being removed? The ISPs do, right? I mean, they'd make a TON of money out of it. They wouldn't be trying to get these regulations removed if they weren't going to make anything out of it. Also, I don't see a problem with the internet as it is, yes, it's slow for some people and ISPs aren't in a hurry to sort it but I don't see how ending Net Neutrality will sort this complex issue.
What is the FCC doing?
On the 18th May 2017 the FCC voted 2-1 to start the process to remove net neutrality regulations. This process is a lengthy one and started a 60 day period in which the public can file comments (which is what the websites protesting above are aiming to get people to do). After this there's a 30 day period in which people can respond to comments and finally the FCC's staff will have to turn that feedback into a final order for the commissioners to vote on.
Hopefully the Net Neutrality regulations will stay in place in the US and if they don't I'm sure it will be a very, very unpopular decision. For those of us outside the US we can only stand back and watch.
Side note: If you're from the future and there's no longer net neutrality I'm sorry you can't read this article because your ISP has blocked or severely slowed my site.