Nov20

Net Neutrality And Obama’s ‘Plan For A Free And Open Internet’

Posted by Kelly Kirkham

Are all websites created equal? Or should mega-sites be able to pay their way to easy access? President Obama details his own opinions on net neutrality in his ‘Plan for a Free and Open Internet’. What does this mean for internet users and what can we expect in the future of web traffic?

Over 4 million individual comments have been submitted to the Federal Communications Commission concerning net neutrality- the idea that all participants on the web are created equal. This concept has kept the internet free and equally accessible since it began 40 years ago. What has always been assumed as an equal opportunity workspace is now facing slowdowns, blocking and paid ‘tiers’ that could affect the lives of daily internet users. Due to a recent media surge, we at Midphase decided to find out exactly what the deal is with net neutrality and what we can expect in the future.

The term ‘net neutrality’ was coined in 2003 when Law Professor Tim Wu first used it in a law review article comparing the term to “Darwinian theories of innovation”. Since then the term has been hotly debated in different ways, ranging from hashtag awareness campaigns to street rallies. The topic persists, provoking more and more responses from the general public, businesses, and most recently, a message straight from the US Government.

President Obama recently released a statement and video concerning net neutrality and the threat it poses to the public, stating:

Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.  

The internet has changed the way the world works, communicates and does business. Cable companies implementing fast lanes to paid providers and slower lanes to the rest could equate to a massive change in the way we live and do business. This is precisely why net neutrality is a worldwide concern attracting major media attention. Such efforts included an Internet Slowdown Day, urging the public to have their say in the FCC’s proposed internet rules.

In President Obama’s video, he recommend four steps to the FCC as a way of maintaining a level playing field:

  • No blocking: if a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling: ISPs should not be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency: the connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the internet.
  • No paid prioritiszation. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritizsation and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

Along with these four priorities, Obama states that, “I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”

The idea of reclassifying the internet as a utility (similar to water, electricity or sewer) is not a new concept. In 2005, the FCC announced a policy statement regarding DSL Broadband internet. This decision classified internet connections as a cable service rather than forcing phone companies to share infrastructure with ISPs. This allowed phone companies to free up resources and led to improved broadband services. Without this major decision, many paying customers could still be hearing a dial tone when connecting their modems. This goes to show that the internet is evolving and there also needs to be an adaption in the regulations and rules protecting average internet consumers.

Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, responded to the White House’s pleas for regulation with this statement. Wheeler has taken much criticism by taking the Chairman position after previously being employed as a lobbyist for the cable industry. Such criticisms included an    enormous amount of attention from HBO’s John Oliver and his segment on Net Neutrality. Oliver equated Wheeler’s Chairman position to “leaving the dingo with your baby”. Wheeler retorted by announcing on C-SPAN that he is in fact “not a dingo”.

Surprisingly enough, Wheeler’s statement seems to support President Obama and his plans for the future of the internet. Wheeler’s statement includes such sentiments as, “ Like the President, I believe that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth.” He continues: “The Internet must not advantage some to the detriment of others. We cannot allow broadband networks to cut special deals to prioritize Internet traffic and harm consumers, competition, and innovation.”

This seems hopeful for internet lovers across the globe. In a perfect world the Chairman and the rest of the FCC can work with individuals to keep the internet a free and available platform for all the weird and wonderful ways that we communicate online. But then again, Chairman Wheeler’s statement does sound a little too optimistic. As a world-wide community, I’m sure all of the web will keep their fingers crossed.

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