(Ping! Zine Issue 67) – What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is a set of laws issued by the Federal Communications Commission that bar Internet providers from discriminating against certain websites or imposing fees for high-bandwidth sites.
The FCC established the Net Neutrality laws in 2011 in an effort to preserve Internet freedom to users from providers denying access to sites that compete with their own services.
According to the Federal Register, the rules issued in 2011 required three things from providers:
Disclose network management practice, performance characteristic, and terms and condition of their broadband services
To not block lawful content, applications, services, and non-harmful devices
Not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic
FCC Current Ruling
On January 14, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC didn’t have the right to enforce these laws.
The case, brought on by Verizon, had a 2-1 ruling, granting Internet providers the power to freely prioritize web traffic, meaning that they had the right to charge high traffic sites fees for faster Internet.
“The court’s decision will allow more room for innovation, and consumers will have more choices to determine for themselves how they access and experience the Internet. Verizon has been and remains committed to the open Internet that provides consumers with competitive choices and unblocked access to lawful websites and content when, where, and how they want. This will not change in light of the court’s decision,” stated Verizon executive VP, Randal Milch.
Following the court’s decision, FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler stated that the Commission would consider whether to appeal the ruling or to draft new rules.
“The FCC also is not going to abandon its responsibility to oversee that broadband networks operate in the public interest. It is not going to ignore the historic reality that when a new network transitions to become an economic force that economic incentives begin to affect the public interest. This means that we will not disregard the possibility that exercises of economic power or of ideological preference by dominant network firms will diminish the value of the Internet to some or all segments of our society,” wrote Wheeler on the FCC’s official blog.
How will it affect users?
The courts current ruling states that Internet providers like Verizon, can now charge certain sites fees based on their bandwidth usage.
For example, popular video and music companies, such as Netflix and YouTube, would seem to be the first to get charged, considering how many subscribers they have.
Netflix currently charges customers $7.99 a month to stream hundreds of movies and television shows to their computers, TVs, and mobile devices.
If a service provider decided to charge the company money to increase their bandwidth, companies would either have to pay or suffer from slow Internet, angering many customers.
Theoretically, this would eventually cause a snowball effect; charge companies fees for faster Internet and sooner or later these fees will trickle down to consumers.
If the cost of doing business goes up, companies would have no choice than to pass some of those costs to consumers, so sites like YouTube and Pandora would no longer be free.
“The correct capitalist response would be to charge the end user, but no vendor wants to go to the customer to hammer them if it can be avoided,” stated Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush. “The elimination of net neutrality means they can go to Netflix and squeeze them instead.”
The gaming industry would also be likely to see changes.
Sony’s newest console, the PS4, now has a monthly fee of $9.99 to play multiplayer online games.
This subscription fee has the possibility to be raised if the company does get charged more fees, because it is very unlikely Sony would take a big hit like this without charging its customers.
Same effect could occur on games that require monthly subscription fees.
Right now the elimination of Net Neutrality is targeting companies, but who says that later on down the road this won’t target individuals.