The Internet has grown pretty spectacularly in the past two decades. That’s happened in no small part due to a principle known as “net neutrality”, which states that ISPs must treat all data on the Internet equally, rather than given preferential treatment to larger companies who can pay for it. The open Internet has been a smashing success for everyone involved, but if the FCC’s new plan takes effect, it could be a thing of the past.
Current FCC chairman (and former cable industry lobbyist) Tom Wheeler claims that there is no policy change here, but that seems to be demonstrably false. The FCC’s proposed plan reportedly allows ISPs to offer a “faster lane” for some traffic, one which they’ll charge affluent content providers to access. This New York Times piece has a good summary of the problems:
Still, the regulations could radically reshape how Internet content is delivered to consumers. For example, if a gaming company cannot afford the fast track to players, customers could lose interest and its product could fail.
The rules are also likely to eventually raise prices as the likes of Disney and Netflix pass on to customers whatever they pay for the speedier lanes, which are the digital equivalent of an uncongested car pool lane on a busy freeway.
In practice, there will be scant difference in allowing some content priority access, rather than disadvantaging content from smaller players. The end result will be the same, and it will be bad for everyone but the ISPs. Net neutrality has been the one saving grace in American Internet access, where there is extremely limited competition between ISPs. A world without either competition or net neutrality would be a frightening and bleak one indeed.
That said, it’s not yet too late to save the open Internet. You can contact the FCC Chairman and commissioners via email. Please consider emailing to show your support for true net neutrality.
Update (April 24th, 2014): After emailing the FCC chairman and commissioners, I received one reply, suggesting I submit a filing for the public record. I’ve done so here, in proceeding number 14-28, “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet”.
Finally, here’s a great overview of the whole mess from Ryan Singel.
Sorry for not being funny today, but this is tremendously important.
Update (April 25th, 2014): Another quick action worth taking is signing this White House petition.