The net neutrality debate: Which side are you on?

Do you remember the old Napster debate of downloading music files and whether it should be allowed? Do you remember when Eminem first came out with his initial album and the whole debate started about freedom of speech within music lyrics? Well, welcome to the freedom of speech and Internet usage debate on the Internet – it’s called net neutrality.

 The approach to net neutrality in the United States has been shaped largely by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Under the Obama administration, which has made protecting Internet freedom a priority, the FCC is proposing formal net neutrality rules.

In August, it drew up a set of four neutrality principles as it penalized Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) for slowing the speed of broadband service to high-volume users. As with all rules, there will be people who have been greatly abusing the system for a while and the rules being instilled upon them are a huge wake-up call financially.

Internet service providers (ISPs) say traffic management is needed to balance soaring demand for bandwidth from video and popular sites. The wireless industry is also concerned that the rules are too broad and could stifle innovation on the web. The net neutrality principle states that if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for a given level of access, that the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access.

In essence, the FCC is trying to enforce no discrimination for Internet usage. Net neutrality protects each Internet user’s ability to view or download whatever they want online without interference from the phone or cable company. The definition of network neutrality is a principle proposed for access to networks participating in the Internet with no restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as communication that is not unreasonably degraded by other traffic. In layman’s terms, it means that all information flowing across the Internet should be treated equally – from the downloading of content-rich Web sites to the downloading of YouTube videos of grown men sliding down their lawn on giant slip-n-slides. The question arises – do we
need federal intervention to ensure fairness? The debate is over whether ISPs can give preferential treatment to content providers who pay for faster transmission or to their own content.

Neutrality proponents claim consumers have a choice of using a slower dial-up service or paying a premium price for faster speed over cable or DSL. Providers argue that if that two-tiered business model is applied to site owners as well as users, carriers will be able to offer more services like Internet-based cable TV programming and video at competitive rates. Many believe net neutrality to be primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms. Even the founders of the Internet and creator of the Web have spoken out in favor of network neutrality.

Critics of the two-tiered model fear that the extra costs incurred for premium service would be passed down to the consumer in fees for sites, applications and services. They point out that small, independent sites, such as personal blogs, are on an even playing field with large, corporate sites in a net-neutral environment but might be unable to compete in a tiered service model.

I guess with the Internet-addicted world we live in, we may have to come to the realization that we will have to pay larger bills or eliminate altogether the downloading of sports game scores, constantly posting the latest pictures from our cell phones to our Facebook pages or remixing and uploading 27 different versions of the “Pants To The Ground” song from American Idol to our blogs. If you do live in this technological age but actually only use your cell phone for calling and texting or use the your home Internet service for sending e-mail or gathering news information in small quantities, then you may feel differently on the net neutrality debate because your costs will probably be a normal amount. However, for the remainder of the world who can’t live without constantly being online and downloading to the max, this debate could be leave a big hole in our wallets if we want to continue at the pace we are moving in this social networking generation. 

James Perly is the president of Perly Consulting Group. PCG makes claims for government tax credits, as well as grants for Canadian companies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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