Thursday, January 15, 2015

Net Neutrality: Regulation needed?

I recall a time when dial up was the mode of connecting to the internet and even then the content was very limited. No fancy graphics, no cookies, no advertising existed. Today, many of us gain access to the internet through our smartphones while others still use that thing called a computer. Then again, the computer is being eased out by the tablet and hybrids of the tablet/laptop. The content is richer, more graphic and interactive now as well.

Over the last few weeks, I have researched the topic of Net Neutrality to learn about what this term really means and thoughts of leading experts in the field. While I am sure I missed a few experts thus not giving me the entire picture, enough material was consumed to at least get the conversation started. Unfortunately, as I type this blog entry the recent speech given by President Obama won't be mentioned as I haven't heard or read the transcript yet despite the many sound bites that exist on the internet.

A reason why proponents of Net Neutrality are promoting is the power Internet Service Providers (ISP's) have over the speed at which we consumers receive content. Netflix appeared to be at the apex of this controversy as ISP's were throttling, slowing down, users that were streaming, watching, content from Netflix. In an article by The Windows Club, What is Net Neutrality - Definition, it is asserted that Comcast was "slowing down Netflix to promote its own paid videos". Thus pushing users to use Comcast lineup more than Netflix.

Now, in 2014 the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) did set a few rules to regulate that internet:

  1. Transparency: ISP's have to report and publish their performance periodically to traffic, irregularities, charges applied to faster bandwidth, and websites blocked.
  2. ISP's cannot unlawfully block websites: Not a clear definition of though of unlawfully given.
  3. ISP's cannot slow down the internet speed: Meaning if you pay for 1GB data transfer, then you get at least 1 GB data transfer speed.
Other reasons for Net Neutrality is that it will promote competition thus preventing a Ma Bell situation. Creates an environment of innovation while ensuring the Internet remains a free market place.

The counter points to Net Neutrality is that simply it is not needed. Why? Net Neutrality is not needed because ISP's benefit little from blocking content or "degrading network performance". The Internet is transforming as those that use it more than others, ISP's feel they have the right to charge more for the heavy usage; which is an aspect that those that favor Net Neutrality seeks to end.

If the recent Golden Globes are any indication where American's are headed for their viewing of television, then the conversation of throttling, bandwidth, heavy users and alike will be more mainstream. Very few nominations for Golden Globes, in television categories, were from shows on ABC, NBC or CBS. With just a handful more from cable networks that don't stream their shows online. Another concern of Net Neutrality is "Big Brother" syndrome.

Users and ISP's fear that if Net Neutrality is enacted that the FCC, at the whim of political power grabs, will not impartially regulate the Internet; rather will create uncertainty, stifle innovation, and end Capitalistic opportunities on the Internet.

Many of us do experience Net Neutrality already though despite the vague rules set forth by the FCC in 2014. If we were to go to a local library to access the internet, the library, i.e. Government, has put restrictions on the content and websites one can search or interact with. If you happen to work in a cube farm, your access to certain content, i.e. this blog, may be restricted.

I bring up these last to illustrations not because I favor restricting access; rather to illustrate that as a free society we are not always as free as we think to make our own choices. As for Net Neutrality goes:
  1.  If an ISP wants to charge one more for heavy usage I am fine with that.
  2.  If an ISP wants to throttle my service or restrict content for which I search for I am not fine with that.
  3. If an ISP wants to use cookies to track my searches to advance advertising to the banners then so be it as I understand that by my usage of the ISP I give up certain freedoms.
  4. Regulation seldom results in innovation.
The Internet pushes our boundaries and opens the world to our homes. We as consumers have the responsibility to ensure the content we search for, the programs we employ, the websites we create and words we type are without our own moral and ethical dogma.