Is The Internet a human right, or is it a business to be controlled by companies and market forces?
This is the heart of the debate currently raging across the United States. Should the internet remain ‘neutral’, or should it be able to favour one party over another.
Is a Byte a Byte and should all data and content be treated equally? Or will the rich get the best of the web, while the lower classes are left in the dust.
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY
Think of Net Neutrality as a highway. Thanks to speed limits, everything moves at roughly the same rate. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re driving a Toyota or a BMW, all of you are restricted by the flow of traffic and the same speeds.
Pay for Premium Internet would be the equivalent of inserting a fast lane into the midst of all that traffic. Sure, you could travel at the same rate as everyone else, or you could pay extra money and get to go even faster.
Now, say the people controlling these roads were trying to make extra money. They would probably want to encourage more people to use the ‘fast lanes.’ Well, to do that they might put some debris into the regular lanes to make it go even slower. More people would get frustrated, and more people would use the fast lanes. Ultimately, people would be paying for a service that they got to use for free before.
Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) want new rules in place that would essentially insert these fastlanes into the Internet (which up until now have been illegal). They want to be able to charge high-volume content providers extra to get their content to users faster.
This is already starting to happen. On April 23, 2014 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), America’s telecoms regulator, had made a plan to allow ISPs to charge companies for the right to premium access to its customers.
This is a direct reversal of their earlier net neutrality position. It looks like, in the United States at least, Net Neutrality is dead.
WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS?
ISPs claim that data-heavy services (like Netflix or Youtube) should pay for using up so much of their bandwidth.
That kind of makes sense, right? Netflix is bound to use up a lot more data than something like your email account.
Except, Netflix is already paying ISPs to use their bandwidth – just like all of us are now. We pay ISPs to be able to go online everyday with our monthly service fees. (Let’s face it, we all dread it when we get the bill at the end of the month to only find out we’ve gone over our data use and have to pay extra.)
ISPs are trying to get paid twice. Once for using the service, and again for using the premium service.
YOU’RE BEING HELD HOSTAGE
The ISPs aren’t targeting the individual users. We’re small fries compared to the giants like Google, who these ISPs are targeting. So how does the end of Net Neutrality affect the everyday user.
We are the hostages.
Lets use Netflix as an example again. If Netflix refuses to pay for Premium Internet, it’s services will slow down and get jittery (again – we’ve all been frustrated when the latest episode of Game of Thrones won’t load). That, in turn would cause users like us to stop using Netflix and instead use a different service that IS smooth and uninterrupted.
Netflix loses business.
Think of it like protection money! Netflix gets slowed down and jittery because it hasn’t paid its protection money this month, the ‘hostages’ die and are no longer loyal.
HOW DOES THAT EFFECT ME?
Most experts predict that if content providers are forced to pay extra fees to get their services on the network, those costs will be passed on to consumers.
Free Press, a group which advocates an internet where all traffic is treated equally, is convinced that the FCC is on the verge of diaster.
“Giving ISPs the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for start-ups, non-profits and everyday internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls,” said chief executive Craig Aaron.
If companies have to pay more to use the internet, those price increases will trickle down to consumer. Companies have to make up the difference somewhere.
This is already happening. Once again – I’m going to draw on Netflix for an example.
In February, Netflix agreed to pay a new additional fee to ISP Comcast in order to end a slowdown that its subscribers were experiencing.
At the time, Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings was outraged by the fee and published a blog post arguing for much stronger net neutrality rules. You can read his post HERE
“If this kind of leverage is effective against Netflix, which is pretty large, imagine the plight of smaller services today and in the future,” he said.
“Without strong net neutrality, big ISPs can demand potentially escalating fees for the interconnection required to deliver high quality service.”
Then, just last week Netflix announced a price increase in their services – an additional two dollars a month. With this on the heels of them having to pay their ISP, you have to wonder if it’s a sign of things to come.
PEOPLE WON’T STAND FOR IT!
Remember when gas was below a dollar per litre? I remember driving along with my parents and seeing gas prices as low as 0.47. When the price sky-rocketed when I was in high school, I thought there would be riots in the streets. $1.40 per litre of gas? No way anyone was going to buy that! People would stop driving.
Today I look at the roads and highways. If anything, there are more cars out there. Gas is necessary, and since people need it they will pay what they have too.
Is the internet the same? Check out the infographic below from Domo to see how much data is used PER MINUTE on the internet.
You can check out the page where this infographic is from by clicking HERE
If the internet is used this much, will people really stop using it if Net Neutrality ends?
This debate isn’t restricted just to the United States, although the U.S. is one of the few countries that is ending Net Neutrality.
Last Wednesday Brazil signed a law that guarantees equal access. Dubbed its Internet Constitution, this law bans telecommunication companies from charging premium prices.
In 2010 Chile was the first country in the world to create a net neutrality law. The Netherlands and Slovenia both followed the next year.
At the beginning of March, Europe voted to restrict ISPs from charging services for faster network access – it could become law by the end of the year. This decision came after the telecom regulator said ISPs were blocking or slowing down services like Skype and Netflix.
As for Canada, it’s a mixed bag. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) has taken a hands-off approach. We have traffic management rules in place to prevent discrimination and content blocking, they won’t enforce the guidelines. It’s up to the consumers to complain about an unfair practice.