By Nick BeJeaux
Net Neutrality, the idea that the Internet should remain free of any entity’s control, is one step closer to becoming the law of the land thanks to a ruling by the Federal Communication Commission and a surprise change of heart by FCC Chairman Tom “Dingo” Wheeler.
For those that are confused as to what Net Neutrality actually is, and not what lobbyists and politicians tell you it is, it’s actually quite simple. It is the idea that all traffic should be treated equally. To encourage this, the FFC has reclassified the Internet has as a Title II Utility, which means that no one, not Big Business or any branch of government, can restrict its access in any way (unless you don’t pay the bill). Now you may be wondering why this is such a big deal. After all, the Internet is the crossroads of humanity where no one is really “in charge.” What you may not know is that this idea of a free cyberspace was very close to changing.
Companies like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T and Cox were fiercely lobbying for a two tier system that would allow them to offer “fast lane” and “slow lane” internet service in the days leading up to this decision. What this would do is destroy the online level playing field and dump fat wads of cash onto the desks of CEOs. As an example of what would happen in a world without Net Neutrality, take a look at the relationship between Netflix and Comcast. Netflix and Comcast were renegotiating their financial agreements when Comcast decided it wanted more money out of Netflix than netflix was willing to pay. To “persuade” Netflix, Comcast slowed Netflix streaming speeds for their customers until it was basically at zero megabits per second. When Netflix relented, customers could stream Netflix again with the usual crappy Comcast speeds. Imagine what the world would be like if companies like Comcast were able to shutdown someone’s kickstarter campaign, throttle Facebook until it shuts down a competitor’s Facebook page, or censor other information that conflicts with their interests. It’s terrifying!
Now there’s a lot of controversy and confusion over this endorsement, particularly when you throw politics into the mix – what else is new? The FCC voted 3-2, along party lines no less, to approve the decision with the two dissenting votes coming from Republicans Michael O’Rielly and Ajut Pai. The three supporting votes came from Democrats. As I mentioned earlier, Net Neutrality has yet to be fully adopted and you can bet that big business and their buddies in the GOP are going to be fighting it in court and, where else, online.
Already, companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast are decrying the ruling. Verizon is notably taking the low road on this one by publishing asinine, dickish responses in morse code and smudged type-writer print dated 1934 that no one can read. Republicans are getting in on the jackassery too. Ted Cruz likened the idea of Net Neutrality to Obamacare (which, to be honest, is not that bad) and some have even claimed that this will stifle innovation and competition, which is the opposite of what companies like Apple, Google and Amazon have asserted about this issue. What do they know anyway?
But what you care about is how this decision will actually affect your life online; your Netflix binges, your Tinder/Grindr account that uses that mug shot from 5 years ago, your Facebook page covered with selfies and cat videos, access to Jaden Smiths Twitter feed, etc. And the answer is even more simple than the definition of Net Neutrality; it will in no way shape or form make an impact on your life. That’s the point. The FCC’s decision protects the Internet from anyone messing with it, much like designating a patch of land as wilderness or a national park. No one owns the Internet today and thanks to the FCC no one ever will. The Internet encapsulates the very best (and worst) of what humanity has to offer and no one should stifle that – no one has the right to.