An Everyman’s Guide to Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality law
Net Neutrality Explained — Simply.

May 2014 Update: The Federal Communications Commission announced its plans to move ahead with net neutrality rules. The comment and review period is expected to last several months. Since the publication of the article below, the FCC submitted 2 drafts, which the courts rejected. But, as they say, the third times the charm, and after the addition of a provision that prohibits ISPs from slowing or blocking connections, the courts gave their stamp of approval. In theory, the compromise sounds fair — but in reality, all that means is that a faster Internet will be upon us soon, and entities with tons of money can pay to access it, while those that can’t — won’t. It could have a harrowing effect on small businesses.

****** Original 2011 Article Below *******

“Net neutrality,” warns Senator Al Franken (D-MN), “is the most important free speech issue of our time.”

In recent months, Rep. Franken and several public interest groups, ranging from the far-left MoveOn.org to the far-right Gun Owners of America, have been speaking out about a set of rules put forth by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which aim to secure fair internet usage and protect against a monopolistic takeover of the Web.

The FCC’s guidelines are commonly known as Net neutrality principles.

While an in-depth analysis of Net neutrality requires a deep understanding of abstract technical practices like “deep packet inspection” and “last mile throttling,” the fundamental debate is simple. Proponents of Net neutrality contend that the lifting or softening of Internet regulations will usher in a new, fascist-like era, wherein the free press would be obliterated; opponents of Net neutrality measures, on the other hand, affirm that internet deregulation will create more competition and ultimately benefit consumers.

The Net Neutrality Opponents’ Argument

It takes a meaty issue to bring the likes of MoveOn.org and the Christian Coalition together; but if the Cassandra-esque predictions are accurate, it is likely that this debate will encourage a lot of cross-aisle hand-holding over the next few years.

Adversaries of Internet neutrality fear that an unregulated Web would result in:

  • Sky-high Internet bills due to the inevitable rise of three information-super-companies: Comcast/NBC, Disney/ABC/AT & T, and Verizon/CBS, which are predicted to collude at a high price point.
  • Priority service to those who can afford to pay the most, i.e., corporate media conglomerates. The theory follows that a tiered internet determined by financial considerations would devolve into widespread information discrimination, and corporate-controlled news sites would receive internet traffic priority over Average Joe’s Blog.

The Net Neutrality Proponents’ Argument

At this point, proponents of Net neutrality are keeping their long-term plans under wraps, instead choosing to simply discredit the opposition’s claims for the time being. As one would expect, telecommunication and media companies are leading the charge to push through Net neutrality rules.

Netflix: A Real World Case Study

If telecommunication and media corporations win the Net neutrality war, Netflix could be among the most notable causalities.

Why?

Currently, it costs the average person about $10 a month to belong to Netflix’s movie streaming service. If Net neutrality rules are overturned, cable companies, who also own the internet wiring infrastructure, could legally charge Netflix an extortionist’s rate to connect to the Internet. Naturally, the price hike imposed on Netflix would translate into higher costs for end users.

What happens then?

Net neutrality activists predict that telecommunications companies will force a situation in which the $7 on-demand movies, available via your cable box, will end up being cheaper than a Netflix account, which would effectively put Netflix out of business.

The Internet neutrality debate is in its nascent stages, but beginning to heat up. Last week, telecommunications giant Verizon Communications fired the game-starting gun by filing a legal action in the deregulation-friendly D.C. District Circuit Court, which, in the past, ruled against the FCC in favor of Comcast Communications.

Over the next two years, expect to hear a lot of lobbying from both camps; keep abreast of the topic, because Net neutrality is an issue which could alter the way average citizens access and interact on the Web.

If you are looking for Net neutrality legal advice, be sure to consult an attorney who is well versed in both regulatory law and technology.  A good Internet lawyer usually meets both of these criteria.

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