Net Neutrality – What You Should Know

By Lori McConvilleBlog, In The News

Imagine driving on an interstate highway system with all the off-ramps controlled by private companies, which could charge various tolls, some possibly so high that the exit wouldn’t be affordable.

Under a proposal known as Net Neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission would prohibit Internet Service Providers from doing that to content providers on the “information superhighway.”

Net Neutrality would treat the transmission of all Internet data equally — information, videos, shopping sites, gaming, or other types of communications. Higher-fee “fast lanes” couldn’t be imposed upon major content providers, which would pass the costs along to consumers; “slow lanes” couldn’t be used to hamper startups or stifle competition.

The FCC will vote on the proposal Feb. 26 in a fight that pits the telecommunication companies, which want to impose those higher-speed fees, against the likes of such content providers as Google, Netflix, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, and Facebook, which advocate a level playing field.
The Internet originated with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Project Agency Network, making its first transmission in 1969. ARPANET was later handed off to the National Science Foundation, which worked with academicians and corporations to create an Internet “backbone” using high-speed, fiber-optic trunk lines. The Internet was opened to commercial traffic in the early 1990s and is operated by a collective of companies. Anti-trust agreements ensure that no single entity can control it.

The ISPs — primarily telecommunications companies (such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, Mediacom and others) — connect “the last mile” from the backbone to residents and businesses for a charge.

The telecoms oppose Net Neutrality because they want to impose additional fees on content providers. In essence, they would double bill you — your monthly cost of Internet access, plus the added fees that content providers would pass along.
In one highly publicized instance, the Washington Post used a graphic to show how Comcast dramatically decreased the “buffering” speed of Netflix videos in 2013 to force it to pay an increased rate. Netflix’s speed “rocketed up” after Comcast extracted a higher fee, which was borne by Netflix subscribers. (

“There is speculation that a non-neutral net could lead to an overall increase in acquiring Internet resources,” said Chris Sevey, Enseva’s chief information officer. “For instance, if you want access to Facebook, that’s an extra $5. Want premium access to Netflix to prevent video buffering? That’ll be $5 extra.”

“Service providers should treat traffic equally, meaning my Netflix traffic isn’t any more important than your Facebook traffic. With a non-neutral net, it opens the doors for Internet Service Providers to start ‘nickel and diming’ customers to access certain resources.”
Without Net Neutrality, the ISPs could hold sway over the U.S. economy by determining “winners” and “losers.”

“It’s possible,” Sevey said. “What if one of your marketing competitors paid the top five Internet Services Providers a monthly fee so that business could have high-speed access to their website content, but because you couldn’t afford the hefty ‘high-speed access fees,’ everyone who went to your website only had dialup speeds? Perhaps people would get frustrated with slow-loading pages and move on.”
Sevey is willing to give the ISPs the benefit of the doubt — in the short term.

“I don’t think many service providers would do anything too drastic, at least initially, mostly in fear of customer backlash,” he said. “The problem is that there are a lot of areas only serviced by a single provider, so some people may not have much of a choice.
“That could lead to service providers making small changes here and there that over the next five-to-10 years yield a drastically different Internet,” he added. “One could only imagine what service providers might conjure up over the next five years given the opportunity to manipulate their service plans in such a way.”

The 1996 Telecommunications Act was supposed to encourage competition, including construction of “last-mile” high-speed, fiber-optic cable that has become commonplace in much of the developed world (rather than slow-speed copper wire).

Instead, the telecoms have focused on stifling competition, including influencing some states to pass legislation to prohibit municipalities from developing high-speed networks. According to the FCC, 96 percent of Americans can choose between, at most, two ISPs for their service. In many communities, the telecoms have a monopoly and want to keep it that way.

Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case in Iowa, where President Obama has cited Cedar Falls Utilities’ “last-mile” fiber-optic network as one of the world’s fastest. In fact, the telecoms have upgraded networks when municipalities have provided competition or Google Fiber has come to town.

Overall, the U.S. lags behind most of the developed world in offering fast Internet connections. A survey by Ookla Speedtest placed the United States 31st in the world with a download speed of 20.77 Mbps, compared to 72.49 in Hong Kong and behind Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Uruguay. U.S. upload speeds ranked 42nd.

Meanwhile, content providers are being exposed to ISP monopoly extortion to use fast lanes commonplace in developed nations. That is simply wrong.

“The neutral communications medium is essential to our society,” said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. “It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true. Let us protect the neutrality of the net.”