With the President recently weighing in on Net Neutrality, this somewhat esoteric issue is now back in the news along with occasional misinterpretations and misinformation. With such a controversial and technically complex subject, basic facts can get lost amongst the political debate and pundit protest. So, what exactly is Net Neutrality and how does it affect your Internet activity or broadband speed? Let’s take a closer look at the details.
“That All Data is Created Equal”
In a nutshell, Net Neutrality means that all data on the Internet is equal, no matter its source or its original creator. This is how the Internet has always operated. ISPs provide you the bandwidth and Internet speed you pay for without any say or control of where that data originates: Netflix, Pandora, Amazon — it makes no difference.
Large telecommunication companies and ISPs have sued the FCC in recent years to challenge the principles of Net Neutrality. One main reason involves the large amount of streaming video data they transmit on their networks, most notably from Netflix. They feel they should be able to charge Netflix and other content providers more to transmit their data in an Internet “fast lane,” costs that will surely end up passed onto Netflix subscribers.
Preventing the Blocking of Content or Thwarting Fiber Network Expansion?
Net Neutrality also means ISPs can’t block content from certain providers and websites. When a company like Comcast is both an ISP and as owner of NBC, a content provider, what is to stop them from throttling your bandwidth when you watch ABC or CBS? Net Neutrality.
ISPs feel the extra revenue earned from charging content providers for an Internet “fast lane” will allow them to expand their networks. Taxpayers through subsidies have also contributed billions to telecommunications companies to upgrade their networks. In fact, AT&T threatened to stop its investment in fiber optic network expansion if Net Neutrality rules are ultimately upheld; something met with derision from industry watchers.
Is the Internet an Information Service or a Telecommunications Service?
Another major issue in the Net Neutrality kerfuffle is whether the Internet is classified as an information service or a more regulated telecommunications service. The fact that the Internet was reclassified as an information service by the FCC in 2002, led to Verizon’s successful challenge of Net Neutrality rules. The FCC chair who made that original classification is now a cable industry lobbyist; the current FCC chair, nominated by President Obama, used to be a cable industry lobbyist.
Net Neutrality proponents obviously want the Internet reclassified as a telecommunications service. They feel this extra regulation will allow the principles of Net Neutrality to once again to guide the concept of a free Internet. Considering that many of you only have one or two options when choosing a local ISP, regulation may be ultimately necessary to prevent monopoly abuse.
So how does all this banter and brouhaha affect your daily broadband and Internet speed? If telecommunications companies are successful in instituting an Internet fast lane for video traffic, expect your Netflix subscription to increase by $5 – 10 per month, especially with Ultra HD becoming more popular. The specter of ISPs blocking content from other competing entities is another issue that may have to be solved separately from the Internet “fast lane” issue depending on how the politics play out over the next few years.