Over the past couple of years, one of the more interesting subjects to grace headlines is regarding information services such as the Internet. Specifically, net neutrality has sparked much debate between those passionate about personal and business rights as well as those vested in government decision making processes. The fact is, the outcome of this debate could very well change the way we all use the Internet.
To some of the population, this may seem a frivolous topic for the “techno-nerds” and politicians. Casual Internet users, certain business users and those lacking the drive to explore the depths of the Internet are those who appear to be unaffected by this topic. As long as you can share memes on Facebook and access your email, it’s no big deal, right? Perhaps yes and perhaps no.
What is Net Neutrality?
First of all, it is important to understand exactly what is meant by net neutrality. On the surface net neutrality, which is shortened from network or Internet neutrality, means open access to all resources, regardless of physical location or the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that connects such devices to the web. The philosophy is such that worldwide access to the Internet should be unrestricted.
When further delving into this topic, it becomes more complex. The reasons for supporting and opposing the issue are different, depending on a person or groups’ role in the process as it means different abilities and consequences. From a company perspective, especially an ISP, the regulation portion of the concept becomes a major factor.
Regulated Internet is something that has been tossed around for some time. It wasn’t that long ago that SOPA and PIPA were heavily protested because they opposed the open Internet model, by restricting access to sites deemed to be involved in illegal activity such as hosting pirated content. However, from an ISP perspective, the concern isn’t so much where, it’s how data is moving from location to location.
To some degree, there are already different “Internets” in existence. Depending on how you connect to a resource and what policies define the connection, web servers, network locations and search engines, all work together to classify these different tiers of web accessible resources. For the most part, when configuring something such as a publicly accessible webpage, most will use “www” to identify the server as something a browser client may freely access, though it isn’t necessary to use such a prefix these days.
Web servers used by companies for either internal or external access can use virtually any sub-domain name they wish. For example, some high-traffic, public websites don’t use the traditional “www.some-domain.something” today. Search engine algorithms have advanced substantially so naming conventions have become a smaller component of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In the early days of the Internet, this was one way web traffic and identified by search engines but these days, it does not matter as much.
What does matter is the fact that some ISPs have private Internet connections which are mostly inaccessible from the public Internet. It’s much like Wide Area Networks (WAN) that a company with multiple locations may use but on a much larger scale. One of the major pushes from some companies is a similar effort that would segregate portions of the Internet for purposes like giving preferential treatment to certain traffic, sometimes referred to as a two-tiered Internet model. Various companies are lending their voice to the argument – some are in favor of regulation, others oppose it completely and a few are in the middle of the spectrum.
Your Mobile Broadband Provider vs VoIP
Here is one area where major opposition lies because of a multifaceted issue that is creating instability in the market. The manner in which mobile spectrum is leased to various providers is one such problem cited by those opposing regulation as it creates a greater challenge for providers to consistently provide stable service. This underlying issue is one such reason that companies like AT&T do not want regulation for broadband services, whether mobile or fixed line.
Proponents of net neutrality would like to see broadband services classified as telecommunications, which would guarantee certain rights to consumers. Just last week, Mozilla stepped up to the plate by sending a petition to the FCC requesting the FCC reclassify “remote delivery services” or the Internet as a telecommunications service. The intent is to increase regulation on providers such that an open Internet model is truly enforced.
At this point, the lack of regulation means that ISPs are able to play favorites. This means that larger companies get preferential treatment and smaller companies – especially smaller carriers that connect to said larger infrastructures (owned by companies like AT&T and Verizon) – can be throttled.
…so what’s going on?
If it seems convoluted, that’s because it is. Both sides are using net neutrality as an argument for their case but for different reasons. Service providers argue that the regulation will hinder the Internet as an open platform – supporters of regulation say that leaving the Internet unregulated is doing just the same.
As of right now, a service provider can theoretically blacklist any application seen as harmful. For example, the popular Apple video and VoIP service, called FaceTime, was blocked at the beginning of last year, though it was readily available for the iOS platform.
In the case of FaceTime, it wasn’t an issue for mobile providers until 4G became widely implemented. At this point, people could use the application even when not on WiFi. The application became somewhat of a thorn for these companies as it commands a significant amount of bandwidth.
The Present and the Future
The predominant fear is that one of these companies could lash out against a specific application such as FaceTime. Regulation could effectively prevent large carriers from not only blocking certain applications but also block unfair treatment of certain customers. There is, however, one small problem with the proposed regulation.
As privacy is a major concern, regulation could create a new issue. Classifying information services as telecommunications will subject these services to the same laws, meaning it will be easier for government authorities to obtain private correspondences!
The whole situation is rather complex. It makes it difficult to determine exactly what the best course of action is for the FCC. Perhaps creating a whole new act is the best course of action? As a common consensus for either possible scenario seems to be unlikely, it may be time to rethink the entire situation.
What are your thoughts on net neutrality? Let us know in the comments section below.