Net Neutrality and Internet Regulation - Why YOU should Be Concerned!
How much of your time do you spend on the internet? Do you surf the net only a few minutes to catch up on the daily news or check e-mail? Do you spend hours a day streaming YouTube and Netflix videos, chatting on Facebook or Skype, and playing online games like Farmville? Odds are you’re your somewhere in between. In fact, a research study conducted by Harris Interactive found that American adults are spending an average of 13 hours a week online with the highest group totaling around 24 hours per week. That's 7.7% or 14.2% respectively, of the week spent online. Basically, the amount of time Americans are spending online has been increasing dramatically over the past ten years. Additionally, a study conducted by the Nielson Company found that the the average amount of time Americans spend on social networking sites has increased 43% from June 2009 to June 2010! A dramatic increase in a relatively short amount of time, but it’s not surprising considering the advent of internet capable mobile phones, internet integrated TVs and video games, and the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. As the internet itself changes so has the debate of how the internet should be regulated.
At present, in order to utilize internet access, one has to simply pay a fee to his/her internet service provider (ISP), usually your local cable company, such as Qwest or Comcast, and connect this service to a computer. This fee typically grants the user the ability to access the internet and use any features one desires -- watching online videos, searching topics, e-mailing, instant messaging, social networking, and blogging -- to name a few. Of course, there are many people that spend a relatively small amount of time per day browsing the net. On the other hand, as the studies above illustrate, there are also many people who spend hours upon hours utilizing a variety of internet services such as Skype's video chat and streaming various other forms of media which can use a large amount of bandwidth.
Net Neutrality Video Breakdown
This is where network neutrality comes in. The concept of net neutrality is that ISPs should treat all users equally and not discriminate between different kinds of online content, meaning each user pays a single fee for access to every available corner of the Internet, regardless of what type of content they access or what sites they visit. Presently, wired ISPs don't regulate the amount of data or the length of time a user is connected verus any other internet user. They also don't give preference to one website verus any other. For example, ISPs aren't allowed to provided faster service to your Facebook page because they receive a portion of Facebook's advertising revenue, and to block another site from which they don't receive revenue. Otherwise, this could create a situation in which only sites that can pay ISPs get to provide the best browsing experience for their users, thus creating and unfair advantage. In simplest terms, net neutrality means keeping the internet as it is today. However, as the number of internet users and the time they each spend connected has increased, the biggest cable and telephone companies have expressed a desire to chane the status quo.
In fact, net neutrality was brought to the publics attention in 2007 when Comcast blocked traffic from an internet file-sharing client called BitTorrent, claiming the service was overloading its network. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates all communications in the US, ordered Comcast to stop blocking the site, but Comcast countered by suing the FCC, and won, as it was determined that the FCC had overstepped it's authority by trying to regulate the way Comcast managed its network. However, due primarily to a disgruntled public, Comcast eventually lifted the ban on the file-sharing site.
One major concern of proponents of net neutrality is that large cable companies want to create a "tiered" service package. Much like the most cable network providers operate today. Want standard channels alone, 50 bucks/month. You want to add HD channels? Fine, that will be another 10 bucks a month. Still not enough viewing options, OK, we'll add in HBO and Cinemax for another 15 bones. The point is, without neutrality, many people believe internet service providers will start creating the same sort of tiered services. You want standard browsing, $15. Oh, your a Facebook junkie and need massive amounts of data transferring capacity to upload pictures? OK, that will be another 5 bucks. You love blogging on HubPages? Great, fork over another additional dollar for every 5 MB you download from that site...And hey, while we're at it, we're going to charge you 50 cents per YouTube video you watch.
As you can probably guess, this doesn't bode well for your average internet user. However, there are have recent developments to prohibit this type of service.
The Good News
On December 21st, 2010 the FCC, by a 3 to 2 vote, decided to assign itself the authority to allow it to impose rules that stop internet providers from discriminating against web content. Here are the rules
Rule 1: Transparency
Rule 2: No Blocking
Rule 3: No Unreasonable Discrimination
This means that it is unlawful for ISPs to prevent a user from accessing any legal content, whether it be a social media site or a video file sharing site. Therefore, as things stand today, your wired internet browsing ability will remain unchanged, unless of course the major service providers file further ligation against the FCC.
The Bad News
While the FCC has decided to strengthen the rules of net neutrality for hard-wired connections, it declared that net neutrality over wireless mobile devices will be much less regulated. This decision is surprising considering the fact that a large portion of the US internet traffic now comes from mobile devices. Obviously, mobile internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon stand to benefit. In fact, Wired.com recently came across a presentation from Allot Communications and Openet, which provide internet access to large mobile companies such as Verizon, in which they clearly express a desire to end net neutrality by monitoring your online activity and charging you extra for using certain services such as Facebook and Netflix. Obviously, they want to end net neutrality because it would allow them to widen their profit margins. You can see one of the slides from the presentation on the right.
Only one day after the FCC ruling, Republicans have gathered virtually unanimous support to rally against the new regulations, claiming the internet needs less regulation and the ruling will halt job creation. In fact, House Commerce Chairman Fred Upton said that his committee is planing multiple hearings to oppose the FCC regulations and will use "every available resource to do so."
In my opion, these guys are missing the boat. Net neutrality isn't for adding additional government regulation of the internet, rather the exact opposite. They want to keep the internet as it currently stands. For example, you and I can blog on HupPages about whatever topic we like, and we are on the same playing field as a New York Times columnist publishing similar articles. We both fight for traffic, but our content and writing drives our traffic, not because the NYT is paying Comcast for an increased upload speed, and thus a better user experience!
It's sad, but Republics claim the battle for net neutrality is far from over....
So,here is the million dollar question…
Would you still spend 13 hours per week of your time online if you had to pay per MB of bandwidth? Would you pay $0.25 for each YouTube video streamed or $0.05 for every 2 MB of Facebook data downloaded, in addition to your monthly rate? Obviously, depending on the type of internet user your are, your charges could accrue quite quickly.
The bottom line is the net neutrality issue could end up dramatically affecting your wallet, especially if you’re the high bandwidth type of internet browser, and for that reason alone, you should care.
Let me know where you stand on the issue of network neutrality in the comments section below.
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Additional Information on Net Neutrality
- The Open Internet: A Case for Net Neutrality
Awesome visual summary of net neutrality.
- GOP lawmakers threaten to repeal Net neutrality - Tony Romm - POLITICO.com
Republican lawmakers begin staking their claim in the potential next leg of the debate: repeal....
- Hutchison Again Tries to Block Net Neutrality | News & Opinion | PCMag.com
These idiots want to block net neutrality.
- Wireless carriers seek to end 'net neutrality' charge fees per service | syracuse.com
Internet access on your phone or at home could cost dramatically more.
- Net neutrality? More like neutered neutrality. | ZDNet
Discussion regarding how the new FCC ruling doesn't apply to mobile services.
- How Will Net Neutrality Rules Affect Consumers? : NPR
NPR's Robert Siegel talks to CNET.com reporter Marguerite Reardon about how the FCC's new net neutrality rules will affect the consumer.