The Net Neutrality Vote: What You Need To Know

9 Jan

Net Neutrality has been in the news frequently in the last year and has spawned passionate debate from both sides of the coin. This past week FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a date of February 26th for when the commission will vote on net neutrality. With the upcoming vote just over a month away, here’s what you need to know about net neutrality.

What Is ‘Net Neutrality’?

Net neutrality is the principle or concept of an “open Internet”, meaning Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) and governments should treat all Internet data equally and without priority. Recently Internet Service Providers have advocated against net neutrality. Many believe this is due to the fact that ISP’s want to control the flow of Internet traffic to certain websites or content based on a tiered or preferred service plan. This would allow ISP’s to charge more for highly used content including services like Netflix, Xbox Live, or other online gaming platforms, for instance. Currently, these services allow subscribers to use them with their current flat rate plans without being charged any additional or overage fees.

Why Is Net Neutrality A Good Thing?

Net neutrality is considered a good thing because it essentially keeps the status quo. Internet Service Providers would have to treat all data equally, and most likely with some sort of cap or regulation on how much they could charge for Internet access. It also breeds competition, allowing new services and platforms to become available without fear of being wiped out by outlandish costs for themselves or their users.

Just think for a minute how many people use Netflix. Netflix requires a certain broadband connection speed as well as a certain amount of data transfer in order for its customers to stream TV and movies in high definition. Imagine if your Internet Service Provider only allowed Netflix to provide a certain amount of that data – equaling, say, 10 movies per month for each customer. If they wanted to give more than that, say, unlimited service as they do today, there would be additional and most likely sky-high fees associated.

These fees, of course, would be passed on to the consumer; if not, those services likely die off because they won’t be able to cover their costs and make money. This in turn would prevent many other platforms and services from being created, as the ISP would act as a “gatekeeper” of sorts and weed out competition for their own services.

Can The Government Take Control?

In theory sure they could, however, that would make a lot of people uneasy. Ultimately what many net neutrality advocates are seeking is a balanced approach to Internet service. They want the Internet to stay “open” and highly available without additional costs, but they also want some sort of regulation on what Internet Service Providers can charge. Currently, competitive markets regulate prices on their own allowing most business and consumer customers to gain Internet access for a fair and competitive price. Any party having unfettered control over the Internet would be a bad thing.

What Will Happen on Feb. 26?

Unfortunately, we don’t know. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said this past week at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) that he and the President have the same stance: “When the president said he was for Title II (classifying Internet services as a public utility), there was an effort made to say that Wheeler and the president were pulling in opposite directions, but we’re both pulling in the same direction for no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization. We’re both headed down the same path for the same goals.” The challenge for the FCC is determining what goals and policies are “just and reasonable”. Essentially this means not enforcing unneeded regulations on Internet Service Providers while keeping the Internet a neutral arena.

The Internet continues to grow and the interconnectivity we have as well as the instant access to information makes the Internet one of the greatest inventions ever. Without Internet access many students will be left without class materials, many families will be left without access to communicate with loved ones, and of course we won’t be able to binge on the last season of Breaking Bad during a snow day. On February 26th we’ll likely find out what the future holds.