You’ve probably heard by now that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order yesterday. While it might seem like this means net neutrality is dead (for now), we can still save it. But before we get into that, let’s talk about what net neutrality is and why we’d want to resurrect it.
What Is Net Neutrality?
A good way to think about net neutrality is to compare phone services with cable television services. While every phone call is treated equally by phone service providers (but maybe not by the NSA), not every cable channel is treated equally by cable TV providers. While every time you make a phone call, you know that your phone service provider will connect you to the person you’re calling regardless of which calling plan you subscribe to, every time a cable network puts out programming this is not the case. Since the FCC dictates that phone services, but not cable services, must be treated equally, cable networks are packaged and priced together so that some channels receive priority over others.
Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued the Open Internet Order in 2010, the internet has been treated much like phone services: every website has a chance of reaching users without having to strike any deal with internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon. With this Order struck down, internet service providers are allowed to begin striking deals with internet companies that will fast track Web services in different ways.
One result of this, for example, would be that AT&T could continue making deals with popular services like Facebook to have Web services pay for the data their apps consume. Another outcome could be that high speed internet providers like Verizon could receive payments from, say, Netflix, to fast-track its video streaming and give it priority over traffic to other websites. Additionally, internet service providers could charge customers more for premium internet packages.
While it sounds great to have a faster Netflix in the short term and be able to use Facebook without using up our data plans, compromised net neutrality could have dire consequences for the future of the internet. If only the big boys like Google and Amazon can pay internet providers for access to the internet fast track, internet startups and other new (free!) services would have a hell of a time reaching new users. This means that a life-changing service like Facebook or Zappos would likely not arise in the U.S. again because it wouldn’t be able to establish a user base.
How to Save Net Neutrality
While the current state of net neutrality may sound grim, all hope is not lost. The new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has the chance now to form a new and better mandate for an open internet – a mandate that will actually hold up in court. And it’s up to us to show that the best interests of millions of people mean more than the greedy wants of a few corporations.
To let the FCC know you want an open internet, sign this petition from Free Press. The future of the internet is in our hands!
What do you think about net neutrality?
Image by Free Press