May 2014 Update: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced plans to move ahead with net neutrality rules, but the comment and review period is expected to last several months.
Since the original publication of the article below, the FCC submitted two drafts, which the courts summarily rejected. But, as they say, the third times the charm. After adding a provision that prohibits ISPs from slowing or blocking connections, the courts waved it through.
****** Original 2011 Article *******
“Net neutrality,” warned 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 FCC that 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: Should Internet service providers (ISPs) be allowed to charge websites for a “fast lane” on the country’s online infrastructure?
The Net Neutrality Proponents’ Argument
It takes a meaty issue to bring the likes of MoveOn.org and the Christian Coalition together; but if the predictions prove accurate, this issue will likely encourage a lot of cross-aisle hand-holding over the next few years.
Proponents of Internet neutrality fear that an unregulated Web would result in:
- Sky-high Internet bills because companies like Comcast/NBC, Disney/ABC/AT & T, and Verizon/CBS can collude at a high price point.
- Priority service to those who can afford to pay the most (i.e., corporate media conglomerates). The theory: a tiered Internet, determined by financial considerations, would devolve into widespread information discrimination, and corporate-controlled news sites would receive traffic priority over Average Joe’s Blog.
The Net Neutrality Opponents’ Argument
At this point, opponents of Net neutrality seem to be keeping their long-term plans under wraps, instead choosing to discredit the opposition’s claims when asked about their stance.
Netflix: A Potential Real World Case Study
If telecommunication and media corporations win the Net neutrality war, Netflix could be among the most notable causalities.
Currently, it costs the average person about $10 a month to belong to the 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 heating up. Last week, telecommunications giant Verizon Communications fired the starting gun by filing a legal action in the deregulation-friendly D.C. District Circuit Court.
Over the next two years, expect to hear a lot of lobbying from both camps. And be sure to keep abreast of the topic, because Net Neutrality is an issue which could alter the way average citizens access the Web.
If you are looking for Net neutrality legal advice, be sure to consult an attorney well versed in both regulatory law and technology.