Free and open Internet standing at death’s door

On April 23, the Federal Communications Commission said that it will propose new rules to allow major content streaming companies such as Netflix to pay Internet service providers like Cox and Time Warner Cable for extra bandwidth in order to more quickly deliver
their products to consumers.

Not only would allowing major companies to pay for “faster lanes” on the information super highway give behemoths like Disney and Amazon a huge advantage over their smaller, less financially able competitors, it essentially kills the fundamental basis of net neutrality.

According to the FCC, “… a level playing field where consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use, and where consumers are free to decide what content they want to access, create or share with others.”

 

 

Net neutrality has been a much discussed topic over the course of the last decade, particularly during the SOPA crisis of 2011. But little has actually been achieved in terms of securing net neutrality. It is not a law, but rather a belief — one that is strongly held by tech enthusiasts and defenders of free information.

Net neutrality already suffered a major blow four months ago when a federal appeals court struck down key provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet rules, claiming that the FCC does not have the power to require Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally.

Not surprisingly, it was behemoth ISP Verizon that sued the FCC in an effort to strike down the laws. Shortly thereafter, rumors began to surface that Netflix was being throttled by Verizon. With the FCC’s newly proposed laws in place, every service will face artificial throttling — unless, of course, they’re willing to pay.

It’s the equivalent of paying the mafia “protection money” so that you don’t have an accident brought on by the people supposedly protecting you.

Companies such as Netflix, Disney and Amazon may not enjoy paying their fast lane fees, but they can afford it. If not, they can always pass the costs on to the consumer (it always rolls downhill, after all). The real issue comes when smaller companies with no extra money enter the Internet marketplace and face a massive uphill battle in regards to serving content to their customers. The next Netflix, or Hulu or Amazon will never come to be, because they will never be able to generate the revenue needed to compete against the already existing behemoths who can afford to pay for a faster lane. If that’s not stifling competition in a supposedly “free market,” I’m not sure what is.

Much of this issue stems from the fact that the Internet is not treated as a utility. Rather it is still seen as a luxury, a privilege provided to those who can afford it, rather than as a necessity for every person. It is luxurious to deny that having every bit of information in the world at your finger tips is anything short of opulent and fantastic would be foolish. But the Internet, particularly in America, has gone from a luxury to a necessity.

The electricity, water and gas industries are all regulated by the government in order to prevent consumers from being gouged due to the necessity of such services. Why should the Internet be any different? Increasingly, textbooks and homework are being distributed to children online. Papers are written almost exclusively using information found on the Internet. Physical dictionaries, thesauruses, and scholarly journals are becoming a thing of the past. Everything is going online, and just as public libraries guarantee everyone equal access to physical information, so too should ISPs provide equal access to digital information.

Net neutrality is on death’s door, and if the FCC does not stand up for the right to equal Internet access for not only American citizens, but companies as well, then it may step across the threshold, never to return.

Reach the columnist at svshacke@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @sirshackofford

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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