The Internet is arguably the most profound invention of all time — better than the wheel, the printing press and, even, sliced bread.
Internet Service Providers
But to use the Internet, you have to be connected to it. Consumers generally connect to the internet one of two ways. We can subscribe to a residential broadband service from a company such as Comcast, Verizon or Cox. Or we can subscribe to wireless internet access from companies such as Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. Many of us do both.
The companies that lay cables in the ground (in the case of residential internet access) or erect cell phone towers (for wireless access) and provide access to the Internet are called Internet Service Providers, or ISPs.
Net Neutrality Advocates Say This . . .
Network neutrality is the idea that ISPs should treat all internet traffic equally. Your ISP shouldn’t be allowed, for example, to block or degrade access to certain websites or services, such as those that compete with services offered by the ISP. Nor should it be allowed to set aside a “fast lane” that allows content favored by the ISP to load more quickly than the rest and, thus, be more attractive to consumers.
Among other things, advocates argue that network neutrality enhances innovation. They believe that if they had to compete with established companies that could afford to pay for enhanced service, companies like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox might not exist.
Critics of Net Neutrality Say This . . .
Critics of net neutrality believe that regulating the broadband market could be counterproductive by discouraging investment in internet infrastructure and limiting the flexibility of ISPs themselves to innovate.
What I have written so far was intended to be an objective description of the debate. What follows is my slant on how best to protect the free and fair flow of information on the Internet.
My Ideas For Preserving Net Neutrality
There is currently neutrality among phone services. The phone system is classified as a “telecommunication service” and it is not allowed to favor signals from one origin over another. It has to handle them all the same. However, cable services are currently under different rules. Mobile services are under still other rules.
One way to ensure Internet neutrality is to simply classify cable broadband as a “telecommunication service.” This easy solution would provide true neutrality which, in turn, would maintain fair competition and foster innovation.
But, instead of doing that or trying in some other way to maintain true neutrality, the FCC has basically surrendered to the cable companies. In May, 2014, the FCC proposed new regulations which will allow ISPs to establish a “fast lane” where data from YouTube, Netflix, Apple and other giants will ride while other internet data will be stuck in the slow lane. ISPs will charge fast lane traffic a premium and, after their investment in infrastructure is repaid, will reap huge profits. You can expect these additional charges to be passed on to consumers through such things as higher cost for your Netflix subscription.
Contrary to some cable industry claims, the new FCC proposals do not guarantee net neutrality. What they guarantee is neutrality within the fast lane and within the slow lane, but that is unimportant as long as there are two levels of service and only those with deep pockets can get access to the higher level of service.
This is an extraordinarily important issue which you will be hearing more and more about.
Click here to return to the Law Talk page or here to go to our home page.
**These questions and answers are designed to provide helpful information that can be read quickly. They are neither a full explanation of the subject nor legal advice. To learn more, and to receive legal advice on which you can rely, contact me or another lawyer.