"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." - Arthur Miller

Friday, February 27, 2015

FCC Officially Protect Net Neutrality (Again)

The FCC has officially voted to protect Net Neutrality once again. Neutrality was over turned by the Supreme Court. The new rules exist to try to re-enforce Net Neutrality in such a way that maybe the Supreme Court will leave it alone by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service that the FCC is in charge of. The key of the new rules are this:

1) Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
2) They may not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, application, services, or any classes thereof.
3) They may not favor some internet traffic over other internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind — no paid prioritization or fast lanes.

While the press and others try to make it complicated, the definition of Net Neutrality is very simple - "All data is treated equally". It doesn't matter if the data is a video, a picture, text, it gets treated the same. It does not matter the source, the destination or the subject matter - it gets treated the same. The subject could be the Constitution, a cat or a blank page - it gets treated the same. Fox News and others take a "sky is falling" belief on this but really Net Neutrality has been the default rule of the internet since its very beginning.

The main reason they want to reverse Net Neutrality is of course money. Treating all data equals means the ISPs can't charge to not treat it equally. Say by creating the internet version of an airline with first class service (called fast lanes), business class, and so forth. So if Netflix didn't want to suddenly find their videos playing slowly for not reason...they would have to pay a fee. Or if you are Comcast maybe those TV related websites they own load fast but those ABC websites they don't own kind of chug and skip. Perhaps a new music service with big bucks enters the market and gets that first class for their service but that new start up that does it even better just can't afford it so they fade to obscurity because the ISP's throttled their speed for not paying up. You can see how easy it would be to abuse things (and charge for it) if not forced to treat all data equally.

Now some says "this would never happen!". The thing is there is proof that the abuse had already started. Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner (three of the biggest ISPs in the US) have already been caught throttling Netflix, YouTube, World of Warcraft, Bittorrent and more. Netflix had to pay up to get the video streaming service speed restored. They have all started to introduce tier pricing where you pay more to use more data (which with video on demand can add up real quick). Not because it costs more to deliver more data but simply because they can. Whether you use 1gb a month or 1000gb a month, the cost for them is identical...but with tiered pricing they can just make more money for doing nothing. Sadly the rules do nothing about tier pricing but my point is they already happily abuse the lack of rules to create a reason to make more money while providing no actual additional benefit to the customers. The question isn't if they would abuse the lack of Net Neutrality rules, just when and how much it would cost us when they did.

So what does this mean for the average American? Nothing. Net Neutrality has been in place since the beginning and all this does it make sure it remains in place. While Verizon, AT&T, etc are doing the woe is me game the reality is they should have already been following the rules of Net Neutrality and so nothing has changed for them too. The only reason to complain about rules that tell you "don't run with scissors" is if you planned on doing just that.

Ultimately though even if you don't understand what its all about just think of it this way. Do you trust AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, etc to treat their customers well and with fair pricing? If the answer is no, then you should be for Net Neutrality.

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