Net neutrality is a principle that affects the very essence of the way the internet functions. At the core of the debate, is whether the internet is a resource and public service, such as municipal water and power, or whether it is a privatized delivery mechanism like a telephone company.
How Net Neutrality Works
Specifically, net neutrality refers to, “a principle proposed for user access networks participating in the Internet that advocates no restrictions by Internet Service Providers and governments on content, sites, platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and no restrictions on the modes of communication allowed.”* Basically, all information/data is treated equally whether it is a phone call, peer-to-peer download, a movie, email, photos, a game or whatever the internet can cook up. It is first come, first served, first clicked– first sent.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that Google has, “just-announced (a) proposal with Verizon (that) would prohibit carriers from discriminating against competitors but allow them to charge websites more for better service.”
How It Will Affect You
What this means in layperson’s terms is that Google and Verizon have created a proposal that basically says that they would like certain types of traffic (ie traffic that is beneficial to them) to have priority pay for play access and faster delivery over a network; a topic we addressed in our blog back in 2008.
For a second, imagine a scenario where Sally calls Bill and it takes 5 minutes of slow buzzing for her call to be connected. However, when Bill calls Debbie, he has paid for premium delivery so his call connects in 5 seconds. Net neutrality means that you cannot pay to have your call delivered faster, or your information sent over the network first, or with priority. It means that Sally, Bill and Debbie all have the same access to the same rate of information, without any preferential treatment by the phone company.
How Companies Will Have More Control
Without net neutrality, companies that are willing to pay for priority access can decide what information is a premium and given priority; the priority will be whatever is in their best interests and makes them more money. Perhaps Verizon does not want you to use Skype to talk to your relatives in Greece for free and would prefer you pay $1.25 a minute. Maybe Google doesn’t want to help you find a free peer to peer sharing network, and instead wants you to buy access to that new Tom Cruise movie. Without net neutrality, big companies make decisions for you about what kind of content is best, and if you aren’t willing to pay for it… well you can just walk along in the slow lane, Sally.
In addition, a non-neutral web is a place where behemoths, companies with large amounts of capital, and legacy sites have an advantage. It means that a company can pay to have their content delivered faster, whereas Innovative Newbie will not have that advantage. Or even if they did have the money, Big Behemoth may have already signed an exclusive deal. What the Verizon/Google proposal basically means is that the wild west of the internet could be over, and they would like to solidify their gains and status as big guys do. For every entrepreneur out there, and every web geek with a great idea, let’s hope that does not happen, because starting a new business is already hard enough without the ability to deliver your product tilted in the other company’s direction.
Those in Favor Of “Network Management”
In the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal (there’s a surprise) Holman Jenkins says the genesis of considering how to properly charge for using large amounts of data, particularly over the mobile-web, came down to Google’s advertising platform. One option was to offer data plans based on usage, thereby the more you surf, the more you pay. This would dissuade a user from clicking on ads knowing that they would have to pay to see the webpage behind the ad.
What You Can Do
Currently, the FCC is on the side of net neutrality. To have a say about this, and about the future of the internet as a business platform, email your thoughts to the head of the FCC, Chairman Julius Genachowski. His e-mail is Julius.Genachowski@fcc.gov.
With net neutrality still in effect, that email will be delivered without preferential treatment, in the order it was received. Of course we always appreciate your well thought comments and opinions below!
Great article Landon! I’ll be sending an email to the FCC tomorrow morning.