Step Back: A Net Neutrality Lowdown

In February 2015, the FCC released a document stating the rules they wish to apply to protect the Open Internet, a term used to refer to an internet where the users can go where they want, when they want. The fight for these rules enacting “net neutrality” has been going on for longer than there’s been a name for it, but with no sign of the internet’s influence slowing down, many people began to push for the FCC to make a stand for this principle. The FCC’s document notes three bright-line rules:

  • No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind — in other words, no fast lanes. This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

No blocking.

This part is the less debated of the three. It specifies that the content is legal, differentiating it from the push against SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) three years ago. SOPA was so disputed because it would authorize the censoring of any internet sites that foster illegal content in any way, granting law enforcement unsettling power in censoring and filtering the internet. Proponents of the Open Internet lashed back, believing that in no way should the internet be censored, that another solution should be sought. On January 18, 2012, many major internet websites participated in a planned protest against the bill. Google’s logo had a black box placed over it, linking to information about SOPA. According to Google, that day, they got 4.5 million signatures on a petition against the bill. Two days later, congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called off plans to formally draft SOPA.

Google's logo in protest of SOPA / PIPA
Google’s logo in protest of SOPA / PIPA

The discontinuation of SOPA was a huge victory for internet activists that proved that they could have an impactful effect on the regulation of the internet. About a year later, protests started once again to assist the FCC with their net neutrality propositions, and opposition has become more prominent as the regulations are being written up.

No throttling.

On March 20, 2014, Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings, published a blog post on Netflix’s website, “Internet Tolls And The Case For Strong Net Neutrality”. Hastings claims that major internet service providers (ISPs) throttled Netflix’s connection to it’s customers significantly. Since Netflix’s service relies on constant data being streamed to its users, these ISPs are able to extract a toll from Netflix in order for their service to be treated equal to other internet traffic. He concludes, “Though they have the scale and power to do this, they should realize it is in their long term interest to back strong net neutrality. While in the short term Netflix will in cases reluctantly pay large ISPs to ensure a high quality member experience, we will continue to fight for the Internet the world needs and deserves.” Hastings’ post no doubt fueled the fire even more, calling to attention that the dangers of what can happen without net neutrality are happening to Netflix already.

No paid prioritization.

This goes hand in hand with the proposal of no throttling. The same toll-generating technique can be used the other way around. In addition to banning throttling (inhibiting the connection of select services / websites), the ban of paid prioritization prevents ISPs from boosting the connection of select services and websites (be it ones that pay for the boost, or that they are buddy-buddy with).

Opponents of the FCC’s deal tend to be unconvinced of the last two because they believe in enterprise culture. Companies such as Comcast see an opportunity to make more money and therefore naturally make use of it. If you rent out spaces in a mall, and then the mall suddenly becomes extremely popular, wouldn’t you want to charge more for the rent? After all, it take more for the mall to manage with the influx of visitors. It also takes Comcast a lot of resources to make the biggest streaming service in the world available to millions. Makes sense right?

However, the difference between a mall and the miracle of the internet is not to be overlooked. The Internet has been a catalyst for innovation in the past decades. Its expansion is undoubtedly responsible for a level of globalization our ancestors could only dream of. It’s created a forum for the greatest minds to share and collaborate on innovations and new information. Limiting the user that uses more than the average is like limiting a cancer researcher to one experiment per day because they use too many resources. Throttling is like making new slow lanes on the major highways, costing you extra to use the normal lanes where it doesn’t take two hours to drive to work.

The invention of the internet is destined to lead to another great age in society. Many parallels can be drawn to the invention of the printing press. The dissemination of ideas that came as a result of the press, among other things, left the Medieval period behind and ushered in The Renaissance, and ultimately, the modern age. Through the power of the press, Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible became widespread, allowing simple people to read the entire bible for themselves, something that was before done only by educated Catholic priests and scholars. The printing press turned the world on its head in a way that is viewed today as crucial to where our society is now, how we improved from the fifteenth century to get to where we are now.
The internet right now is really in an infant state in the grand scope of things. With its protocols being invented just thirty years ago, it needs protection so that it can reach its full potential in globalizing society and bringing together people as a whole. See what the printing press fostered over five hundred years? The internet can do even more than that in an even shorter time. The internet is the key tool in advancing society and that is why it deserves these unalienable rights.

By The Opte Project [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons