A Primer on Net Neutrality

Disclaimer: Reading this article will make you an authority on the issue of net neutrality. SLICE Managed Solutions is not responsible for any hurt feelings that arise from all of the heated debates you will inevitably start and win.

A Primer on Net Neutrality

Summer brings long, warm, nights sitting on rooftops or in backyards, chatting with family and friends. Sometimes, the conversation turns to politics and when this happens, there is nothing more awkward than being uninformed on the topic in question and watching in silence as the other members of your posse engage in a heated debate. Thanks to an ongoing, well-publicized dialogue, as well as its relevance to all Internet users (basically everyone), net neutrality may very well be the hot button issue at your next hangout session. Learn the origins of the debate, both factions’ key figures and their arguments, as well as how SLICE Gateway resides in a happy medium between the two camps, so that you do not find yourself at a loss for opinions/words!

The Background

Net neutrality refers to the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Though it was only coined in 2003, the origin of the term “net neutrality” remains a mystery. Some sources believe it is a diminutive form of “Internet neutrality,” while others maintain that “net” comes from “network.” Nevertheless, the debate surrounding net neutrality’s etymology is not occupying space in the newspaper or time in the courts’ schedule. It is the idea of net neutrality that draws controversy. Indeed, its short history is fraught with more drama than a middle school dance.

The technological community has been pondering the pros and cons of net neutrality since the dawn of the Internet. However, the yet-to-be-named issue did not penetrate the American mainstream until 2002, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to reclassify cable Internet access so that it was no longer subject to the same federal regulations as  digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet access.

In 2005, FCC Chairman, Michael Powell, tried to preserve net neutrality by calling for Internet service providers (ISPs) to abide by the following tenets, entitled the “Four Freedoms”and grant Internet users:

1.The freedom to access Internet content

  1. The freedom to use the legal application of their choice

3.The freedom to attach personal devices

4.The freedom to obtain meaningful service plan information

That same year, the FCC deregulated DSL as well. While many customers objected to the decision, as they no longer benefitted from consumer connectivity protections, ISPs generally considered the deregulation of both forms of Internet a win. ISP, Comcast, famously profited from the FCC’s ruling. In 2007, the FCC accused Comcast of interfering with peer-to-peer file sharing on software programs like, BitTorrent, violating the commission’s policy on net neutrality. Following a lengthy investigation, a 2010 verdict declared Comcast the victor of the case on the grounds that, according to the FCC’s classification of its services, the company is exempt from net neutrality rules.

Recent years have seen a number of high profile demonstrations in favor of net neutrality. In 2012, websites such as Wikipedia went offline temporarily to protest Internet censorship bills being discussed by Congress. Last year, telecommunications company (telecom), AT&T, appeased public interest groups by lifting its ban on supporting Apple’s FaceTime App.

Fast forward to 2014 and the net neutrality debate rages on. The FCC plans to make a decision as to whether or not it will allow companies to pay ISPs so that their sites reach users faster on September 10th. The approaching deadline seems to have revived both sides’ interests in the issue.

The Argument for Net Neutrality

In one corner is Team Neutral Internet, made up of those who wish to secure an Open Internet devoid of fast lanes and slow lanes. Proponents of net neutrality, such as comedian, John Oliver, and Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, fear that granting ISPs the power to promote certain websites over others will lead to an elitist Internet.

Whether you are scrolling through a web page dedicated to the uncanny resemblance between Christian Bale and Kermit the Frog or conducting online research for your dissertation on the efficacy of elementary school health education programs in combating the childhood obesity epidemic, the content is transmitted at an identical speed. Supporters of net neutrality credit the Internet’s egalitarian performance level with providing information to the previously excluded and giving a voice to those who would otherwise go unheard. Without regulations in place to protect the neutrality of the Internet, proponents claim, what is currently an equalizing force will become a tool used by corporations to serve their own interests, undoing the Internet-facilitated social progress of the last few decades. PC World blogger, Samara Lynn, is concerned that a system of tiered Internet access will not only contribute to the inequality inherent in United States ghettos, but bring the concept of the ghetto online. She warns:

Without fiercely guarding net neutrality, ISPs could assign higher-priced, top-tier service to customers and provide them with the fastest, most robust bandwidth. Guess what that means? If you are poor and can’t afford top-level service, you won’t get equal access to the Internet. Your access might be slow and choppy. Guess what else? It’s safe to assume that ISPs will put more dollars into networking infrastructure in wealthier locations with residents and businesses that can afford to pay for top-level services and ignore areas with poorer subscribers.

As Lynn mentions, it is not just the financially struggling individual that net neutrality advocates believe will be further hindered by tiered Internet access, but the financially struggling business. They worry that on this new Internet, only established businesses will have the funds and influence to transmit high quality content. Esquire’s Siva Vaidhyanathan, sees tiered Internet access as a threat to the entrepreneur, urging readers to consider that, if net neutrality is not valued, “We might never hear of the next YouTube or the next Netflix because it would never be able to get big and rich enough to afford the toll.” Communications law scholars, Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney, echo this sentiment, remarking:

Most of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started out in their garages with great ideas and little capital. This is no accident. Network neutrality protections minimized control by the network owners, maximized competition and invited outsiders in to innovate. Net neutrality guaranteed a free and competitive market for Internet content. The benefits are extraordinary and undeniable.

When superior transmission can be purchased, net neutrality activists argue, there is little stopping Big Business from promoting particular agendas by making online content in line with those agendas easily accessible and making access to contradictory information difficult, or even impossible, to obtain.

To summarize, Team Neutral Internet is fighting for government regulation to uphold the Internet’s unbiased status quo. It believes that this will help to prevent a future in which Big Business acts as a gatekeeper of online information, perpetuating a vicious cycle of money and power coming to money and power.

The Argument against Net Neutrality

In the other corner we have Team Tiered Internet. As its name implies, this team is comprised of those in favor of non-neutral, tiered Internet access. Opponents of net neutrality include telecoms Verizon Communications, Time Warner Cable, and the aforementioned AT&T. This side of the debate maintains that net neutrality is an unfair concept that thwarts the evolution of the Internet.

Members of Team Tiered Internet offer a rebuttal for each of their opponents’ points. Whereas Team Neutral Internet’s platform is built on the idea that all users are created equal, Team Tiered Internet argues that this is not the case. Although Comcast Executive Vice President, David Cohen, denies that on an unregulated Internet, customers of different tiers would have vastly different online experiences, he does suggest Internet be treated as a utility, such as electricity, gas, and water, in the sense that “people who use more should pay more, and people who use less should pay less.”

As previously discussed, one of Team Neutral Internet’s chief criticisms of tiered Internet access is that it hurts small businesses and rewards big ones. Team Tiered Internet asserts that the opposite is true. Government regulations, team members insist, are notorious for being written and enforced in a way that allows large corporations to prosper while small firms continue to fail. In a piece for Forbes, writer, Joshua Steimle, insists that Net Neutrality laws will be no different, contending:

If Net Neutrality comes to pass it will be written in a way that will make it harder for new companies to offer Internet services, which means we’ll be even more beholden to the large telecoms than before. If the telecoms are forced to compete in a truly free market, Comcast and Time Warner won’t exist 10 years from now.

Even some government officials do not seek jurisdiction over the Internet. Fred Upton is one of them. A Republican Congressman from Michigan, Upton serves as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. He explains:

A lot of us believe that we don’t have a problem today and we’re not going to regulate a product…which might stifle the entrepreneurship and the progress we want to make in the future.

Net neutrality, detractors feel, would create an illusion of safety at the expense of the Internet’s growth.

To clarify, Team Tiered Internet is determined to keep the Internet free from government interference. Just as cable companies have the right to charge customers more for premium channels, members of this camp reason, ISPs deserve the right to offer tiered Internet access.

SLICE Gateway: A Great Candidate for both Parties

Ever the diplomats, we have created a product to satisfy those on both sides of the net neutrality argument. Affordable enough to count small hotels and other multi-dwelling units (MDUs) among its fans, but consistent enough to meet the needs of large, well-known, venues, SLICE is an Internet gateway that transcends political beliefs by allowing operators to choose from a variety of elements to create their ideal network.

Proponents of net neutrality will be pleased to learn that SLICE enables them to allow Internet access to exist as is. For clients who like the idea of setting-up a system of tiered Internet access, SLICE WIFI offers several customizable network options which can accurately reflect the needs of its unique end users. Take SLICE Gateway’s Freemium capabilities. Freemium is a cost effective option that permits business owners to place restrictions on their establishment’s WIFI Internet service. For instance, Freemium WIFI can be time limited (free access for two hours, paid access after), data limited (up to 1gb of data usage free, paid data after), location limited (free WIFI in lobby, paid WIFI in room) or even used in conjunction with a business’ tangible offerings (a coffee shop provides advertisement and speed limited access, but purchase a cup of coffee and it will include a code which will enable ad-free access without speed limitations). Thanks to SLICE’s state-of-the-art traffic shaping capabilities, operators can also restrict or increase speed of access to certain websites or grant users of a certain level premium services, such as VoIP enablement.

Whether you have decided that you support Team Neutral Internet or whether you have joined Team Tiered Internet, you now have quotes, examples, and reasons to bolster your case. No matter which team you have chosen, SLICE Gateway’s versatility makes it a great pick!

 

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