Net neutrality is one of those concepts that seems easy to comprehend – until you try to comprehend it. Then your brain begins spinning like that Apple pinwheel.
At its most basic, net neutrality means that, for example, an episode of Scandal that you wish to stream from Hulu over your Comcast Internet service provider (ISP) arrives at the same time and speed as it would for any other user on any other service: Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T. Without a consistent delivery speed, that episode of Scandal is likely to slow down – buffer – just as Olivia Pope is about to bed:
A. The President
B. The commander of B-613
C. Jack Bauer
So, net neutrality is a good thing – yes? Predictably, there are two sides to this story. Hulu, Netflix, Google, Facebook, and most every content provider favor net neutrality while most ISPs don’t.
The Federal Communications Commission is now weighing whether ISPs should be allowed to create a “fast lane” for Internet data – essentially, deliberately slowing data and forcing content providers to pay for that fast lane. That increased expense would be passed along to the consumer (of course), meaning your episode of Scandal would arrive quickly and un-buffered – if you paid a higher fee. But if Netflix, et al chose not to travel in the fast lane, or if you decided not to pay for that fast-lane service, your high-speed friends would know well before you who spent the weekend in bed with Olivia Pope streaming season two of House of Cards.
As the New York Times has posited, “Is high-speed Internet service similar to a utility company transporting water or electricity, and therefore subject to heavy regulation? Or is broadband service so integral to what makes the Internet thrive that regulation would destroy the incentive for companies to create new online technologies?”
Verizon speaks for the ISPs when it claims, “For the FCC to impose 1930s utility regulation on the Internet would lead to years of legal and regulatory uncertainty and would jeopardize investment and innovation in broadband.” Consumers Union speaks for the content providers and for consumers when it says that the FCC’s plan “appears to go against the principles of ensuring [an open Internet]. The proposal could negatively impact consumer prices, choices, and access to the Internet, as well as free speech and innovation.”
On a more granular level, what it means for those of us who have clients who regularly post informational videos on everything from the intrinsic value of the arts and humanities to scenes from the charity fun run, is that an Internet fast lane would increase the cost of entry. That could result in fewer such postings. After all, a slowed down fun run isn’t a run and isn’t fun.
Net neutrality should be preserved. There should be no slow lane on the information superhighway because establishing one will push the smaller content providers all the way over into the breakdown lane, while making customers pay for the fast lane.
Hey FCC—don’t make us sic Jack Bauer and Olivia Pope on you.