What is Net Neutrality and Why is it such a hot-button issue?
This political issue of Net Neutrality has been around for a very long time now. The basic idea is that an internet service provider (ISP) and those companies that deal with managing internet traffic are required to treat all internet traffic in the same way...without prejudice.
However, with a recent ruling by the FCC, most ISP's no longer need to abide by those rules due to how ISPs are classified, therefore allowing them to prioritize traffic based on what 'tolls' a company may have paid. So for instance, Netflix^ could be delivered to your home on an Internet pipe that cannot support full HD streaming unless Netflix pays a 'toll' to deliver that product over a higher bandwidth pipe. Without paying for those 'tolls,' the delivery of Netflix movies would be sent over a poor performing pipe causing buffering issues and just a bad experience overall.
You may be saying to yourself, "Well, Netflix is a high bandwidth service, they should be charged to offset the cost of higher performing equipment." In a manner, you are right, but Netflix has already been working with internet trunk providers to provide them with the hardware to offload their traffic onto Netflix devices, effectively taking their video streaming traffic off of the general internet devices and routes that traffic through specialized devices.
But that isn't the problem. Let's say you are a small business that relies on face-to-face communications through the internet. You would like to stream presentations and videos as part of your service. This is also considered a high bandwidth application that would also require said tolls to operate at an acceptable level. These tolls, especially for a start-up, can be cost-prohibitive, meaning they will never, ever get their business off the ground. For existing businesses, this is all but the nail in the coffin for the death of that business, especially if you have a high user base and low to no cost to the user.
With the expansion of cloud technologies, an open internet is all that more important. You could have a small website that you use just for your family. With the rules as written, the traffic to your family website could become unavailable at certain parts of the day due to the ISPs routing 'toll' traffic as a priority to your unpaid traffic. Or worse yet, they could assign dial-up era access speeds to your website because you didn't pay the premium toll.
Fast-lanes and Slow-lanes have been common buzz words in this Net Neutrality argument, where only those who pay for the fast-lanes will have access to that service and all others will only have access to the slow-lanes. I know what you are now saying, "well at home, I have service tier options, the bigger the pipe, the more I need to pay." Well, businesses already do that too! If they want a very large pipe, they need to pay for that pipe, there is no difference there. But the Net-Neutrality argument is about the data that is in-transit. So a bigger pipe at the business end will support more user connections and divvy up their speeds across services, but the rules of segregation are at the business level and not the ISP level. Once the data is on the wire, the ISP is supposed to deliver that data without prejudice, and that will change in the next few months.
There is an electricity provider analogy floating around the internet and basically it goes like this: If the ISPs are to get their way, it would be similar to an electric company charging you various rates on HOW you use electricity and not just HOW MUCH electricity you use. You have 2 refrigerators, then the cost to power those refrigerators is $.21 per kwH versus $.09 per kwH to power your light-stand or the $.16 per kwH for your TVs or the $.32 per kwH for your iron lung. The classic ISP used to be classified as a 'common carrier' which in essence means it provides you a utility service where the service being delivered cannot be segregated by type and charged a premium. Due to a change in wording by the FCC, current ISPs no longer fall into the common carrier group and regulation for common carriers doesn't apply.
The easiest solution without much effort or policy change, just re-reclassify ISPs as common carriers that are providing a utility service, such as Water, Electricity, Sewer, etc. The internet has easily become a necessary utility in the household and in business, not a luxury.
^ All references to third-party brands are Copyright to their respective companies.
Jimmy Andrews has been working with computers for nearly 30 years, semi-professionally for over 20 years and professionally for over 15. His experience ranges up and down the IT scale, from the grunt work of fixing and installing PCs, to managing and administering hundreds of servers and Enterprise technologies, up to the Business side of IT where decisions are made at a 50,000 foot level.