If you haven’t heard all of the talk about “Net Neutrality” you probably don’t realize that it has the ability to completely change how we surf the web and our ability to freely access data online. Net Neutrality, also known as Network Neutrality, refers to the overall openness of the internet. It essentially means that internet service providers (ISPs) cannot control the internet; what content can be viewed, how fast pages load or the speed at which we access data. Net Neutrality is what has allowed the internet to remain a “neutral” playing field, such that anyone can view, create, or share content online. It is the only thing preventing ISPs from selectively blocking or degrading the speed of data access to users who don’t pay a premium.
Origins of Issue: Misclassification
The origins of the issue we face today date back to 2002 when the FCC made a significant error in judgment – rather than properly classifying the internet as a “telecommunications” utility, it misclassified broadband internet providers as “information service providers.” Although this classification appeased the heavy hitters in the ISP world, it effectively allowed them to be exempt from common carrier rules, which would have stopped them from discriminating against, blocking or throttling access to some sites over others.
Openness of Internet: Taken for Granted
We take for granted the fact that we have open internet access to shop online, watch steaming videos, research anything and everything, read blogs, search for how-to videos, share our views in 140 characters or less, get online degrees and access our data from the cloud. The internet has always been open; allowing anyone to access data using free, publicly available standards that has made it possible for entrepreneurs, blog writers and businesses alike to have an equal right to showcase their business, and exercise their First Amendment Right to free speech.
Google Chief Internet Evangelist and Co-Developer of the Internet Protocol had this to say regarding Net Neutrality:
“Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success…A number of justifications have been created to support carrier control over consumer choices online; none stand up to scrutiny.” – Vuntin G Cert
Court Strikes Down Net Neutrality Rules
Unfortunately our freedom to open and equal access to the internet are coming under question as the federal courts recently tossed out the FCC’s “open internet” net neutrality rules that required broadband providers to treat all internet traffic equally. It’s now only a matter of time before companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T start experimenting with different pricing models. Since the DC Circuit courts struck down its anti-blocking and anti-discrimination requirements, the ISPs no longer have anything preventing them from degrading the speed at which visitors can access some sites as compared to other sites for any reason. There are no longer applicable rules in place to prevent them from blocking, slowing, or prioritizing traffic. There is also nothing preventing them from charging companies a premium toll to ensure that their sites are quickly and reliably accessible. Companies like Google, YouTube, Netflix, iTunes and Facebook that use a higher proportion of bandwidth, will most likely be the first hit with additional toll charges, but it may not stop there.
The courts went so far as to say that the FCC has established that “broadband providers represent a threat to internet openness” but the government essentially has its hands tied behind its back – they are NOT able to enforce common carrier rules on them because they are classified as “information service providers.”
From a consumer perspective, this ruling allows broadband ISPs to institute a tiered internet service fee that would allow them to charge users a premium to access sites whose owners opted not to pay the premium toll charge to have their websites more readily accessible. As popular sites like Netflix begin paying a premium to the ISPs, it’s easy to presume that those fees will be passed on to its users.
This entire ruling is a slippery slope that opens the door for ISP giants to bring in unprecedented profits that could result in a 180 degree shift in the internet as we know it today. At this point only time will tell. Thankfully the ruling did leave some room for the FCC to act as a policing authority for companies acting in an allegedly non-competitive manner.
Could This Ruling Effect Cloud Backup Data Access Fees?
With so many users moving to the cloud for data backup, I’ve found myself contemplating how this ruling could affect companies’ ability to store and access their data online. Since data saved to the cloud is transferred over the internet, could this ruling make it more expensive to store data in the cloud and could access to that data be slowed in an effort to squeeze us for more money.