At a recent meeting of the Fellows of the Institute for Ethics and Public Life at SUNY, I was gently chided by a member who pointed out that my last column discussing Net Neutrality missed an important part of the issue. It was pointed out to me that little users (like you and me) were at the mercy of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in more ways than I had discussed. For example, if an individual has a web site then, without Net Neutrality, they would be last in line to get their message out and worse, they could even get timed out and cut off during the process of a long slow download of information. But why should the little guy get the same consideration as the big boys? Because it was the aggregate of little guys who paid for the design and development of the Internet in the first place.
In the early 1990s, Senator Al Gore wrote, “How can government ensure that the nascent Internet will permit everyone to be able to compete with everyone else for the opportunity to provide any service to all willing customers? Next, how can we ensure that this new marketplace reaches the entire nation? And then how can we ensure that it fulfills the enormous promise of education, economic growth and job creation?”
While it is certainly true that Al Gore did not invent the Internet and never claimed that he did (as many detractors like to claim), he most certainly was the driving force behind its funding and eventual creation. Our present Internet evolved from the ARPAnet (funded by the Department of Defense and available only to the DOD and its many contractors). Gore envisioned that it should be made available to everyone as it was ultimately funded by us, the taxpayers.
When reading about the pros and cons of Net Neutrality, it’s useful to be aware of the following definitions:
End Users: People like you and me who log on to the Internet to work or play.
Backbone Networks: The companies, organizations and entities that operate big fiber networks that crisscross the world.
Broadband Providers: Companies that provide data services to homes, businesses and individuals, such as Verizon or Comcast.
Edge Providers: Providers of Internet services that include, well, just about every website and app maker on the planet. Google's YouTube, Amazon, and Apple's iTunes are all large edge providers. (Also called Content Providers)
And, for a quick refresher on the issue of Net Neutrality see: http://www.businessinsider.com/net-neutralityfor-dummies-and-how-it-effects-you-2014-1
In more recent developments, the FCC Chair, proposed that the agency, instead of redefining broadband carriers as a telecommunications service and thus under the regulation of the FCC in the same way the telephone carriers are, the agency would instead attempt to regulate anti-competitive behavior on a "case-by-case basis."
To some, this seems to be a dodgy attempt to avoid making the hard decisions necessary to insure net neutrality. This resolve will be tested by the recent Netflix deal with Comcast: Netflix is a “content provider”, the content in this case being movies and TV shows. Comcast is the largest Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the US.. And the deal is that Netflix has paid Comcast an undisclosed sum to insure that its content is delivered smoothly and expeditiously to its customers. To advocates, this is a violent violation of Net Neutrality especially since Comcast agreed to abide by it until 2018 in its acquisition of NBC Universal, another large media content provider.
To further complicate the situation, Comcast wants to acquire Time-Warner Cable. In other words, the second and first largest cable companies would merge into a corporation with unprecedented power over the most powerful media information network ever created. And if you’re still not overwhelmed, consider this: Google’s response is to provide very high speed optical fiber to selected cities in what appears to be an attempt to start a move up the ISP food chain. If Google succeeds, Comcast will have a formidable competitor. And more competition is a good thing for us consumers.