Net Neutrality’s Importance Today

While ISP competition is low, Net Neutrality rules are crucial to preserving innovation/competition for web services and content providers

The idea of Net Neutrality came about in 2003 to describe how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all data being exchanged by customers on their network equally, and not discriminate between different types of traffic or service providers. ISPs have not upheld these rules in the past, blocking certain protocols and throttling applications like Netflix.

The FCC made it’s first Internet management decision in August of 2008, ruling that Comcast had illegally inhibited users from using file-sharing applications by throttling their bandwidth. Then, in 2010, the FCC approved the FCC Open Internet Order which banned service providers from blocking competitors. Republicans soon announced a plan to reverse the rule but this ruling was not overturned until the DC Court Ruling in Verizon v FCC — ruling that the FCC did not have the authority under the current “common carrier” classification to enforce these open internet rules.

In 2014, plans to reclassify ISPs as “Title II” common carriers came about and by 2015 Tom Wheeler and the FCC had cemented (for the time being) Net Neutrality rules.

And that brings us to 2017, with the Trump administration appointing Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC. Ajit, along with the Republican majority in congress, want to see the Net Neutrality rules scrapped because they see the rules as government overreach that is negatively affecting ISPs.

Importance Today

Net Neutrality is important today because we still don’t have good selection when choosing a high-speed ISP. Many people in the US only have access to one high speed provider, if that. This means that if an ISP chooses to block or filter their customer’s data, their customers have little choice for switching to a different provider.

In recent years ISPs have been consolidating and acquiring content/media companies. It’s easy to see that these ISPs, with their monopoly/duopoly, have a lot of power over consumers as they obtain content that they can prioritize on their network — while blocking/throttling competing providers. ISPs having prioritized content can sometimes benefit consumers (like with T-Mobile & “Music Freedom”) but ultimately this can lead to less access to content and closed/filtered networks.

Possible Futures

I see two possible futures for the Internet over the coming years; one a bright future and the other dystopian.

  • The best chance for preserving competition for web services and maximizing consumer access to these services/content is to preserve the current standing Open Internet rules.
  • If the current rules are overturned we could very well see some drastic changes in the coming years of how we access content and what content we have access to. In a future without Net Neutrality rules, ISPs could limit things like which gaming consoles work on their networks or which streaming applications/websites customers have access to. Imagine Charter only allowing traffic for Xbox’s and permitting media streaming only through their Spectrum service(No Netflix or Hulu) unless customers pay an extra fee. We could also see less developers and independent software engineers creating applications because of the un-level playing field when competing against the media/web services of ISPs.

Congress passing legislation allowing ISPs to sell customer information and calls from top Republicans to end current Net Neutrality rules are not good signs. The communications industry is one of the largest lobbying groups in the US and they want to see Net Neutrality done away with even tho it has not hurt their investment in their networks.

But, as it tends to do, (communication) technology is evolving. We are seeing more big names stepping into the ISP space (Google Fiber) and new technologies being introduction (5G). This is a good sign for ISP competition in the future.

In the short term, while ISP competition is low, I believe that Net Neutrality rules are necessary to preserve the maximum amount of innovation that comes from the most advanced communication system in the world (the Internet). Competition for web services is higher when all traffic on a network is treated equally. Net Neutrality is not about “regulating the Internet”, it is about protecting consumers and their online rights through equality and transparency as well as protecting web application developers by maintaining a low barrier to entry for new competing web services.

It is important that our elected representatives understand what they are voting for — and not just vote for lobbyists. Please take a minute to call your representative, sign a petition(petition #2), and/or leave a comment with the FCC.

If you want to help to preserve our rights online and to protect an Open Internet, please join me in donating to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Also check out Fight for the Future and Save the Internet