Has the even playing field of the internet - the last truly free market place - been sold to the highest bidder? Is Net neutrality really dead?
If you spend any time at all on the internet you have heard the term ‘net neutrality’, but what does it really mean to you? First, let us discuss what net neutrality actually is. The internet has been, since it became a publicly accessible entity, a free zone. Every website and every application equally accessible to the masses. Amazon runs just as fast as Etsy, your access to educational sites is just as fast as access to pornography. Well, that is net neutrality, an internet where every site is equally treated by your ISP (internet Service Provider). Net neutrality allows independent film makers to build an audience for their films, it allows crafters and small business owners to compete for customers on a global stage, it allows bloggers to compete with news organizations and most importantly it gives consumers access to all of these things equally.
Of course, this freedom comes at a price… for big business. A handfull of cable and telecommunication companies want to have more control, or rather the ability to control the flow of information. Until now the Federal Communications Commission had rules in place that prevented ISPs from touching or controlling anything that consumers access via the internet, in much the same way that network television works. The new FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has other ideas. He thinks it would be a great idea to allow cable companies to charge for fast accessibility, thereby forcing smaller companies to chug along the slow lane unless they can pay huge fees to the ISPs. Did we forget to mention Tom Wheeler is a former cable and wireless lobbyist and has connections to many of these big ISPs?
Back in January a federal court struck down the standing FCC Open Internet Order opening the floodgates for what could be the death of the free internet. Luckily, Wheeler and his cable buddies still have a few hurdles, you being one of them.
Until july of this year the issue of net neutrality is open for public debate, meaning your voice counts. This month over 100 internet companies including Google, Microsoft, eBay, and Facebook signed a letter sent to Wheeler voicing their concerns and opposition to the proposed changes, and they are not alone. Several sites and petitions have popped urging internet users to let the FCC know where they stand.
Until the FCC solidifies the new rules, there is still a chance to reverse the current course, but the major blocks are more about politics than they are about the regulations. Wheeler can still take back the internet by reclassifying the internet as a public utility, but the broadband lobby of which Wheeler was once a member would certainly do their best to stop the reclassification, as it would mean even more regulations for them, making the issue more political than legal.
Former FCC official (from 2001-2011) Michael Copps wrote a blog post supporting the call for reclassification stating it was “pretty simple”
” All it requires is an FCC big enough to own up to it’s previous mistakes and courageous enough to put our communications future back on track.”
Reclassification can only happen with a vote from five FCC commissioners. If you are interested in letting the FCC and its commissioners know how you feel about the proposed limits to be set to end net neutrality, there are several sites and petitions eager to hear from you. Watchdog.net, and Freepress are two sites offering petitions, or consumers can contact the FCC directly. Though net neutrality may not be dead, it is certainly on life support. With only two months left for users voices to be heard, they can only hope they are loud enough to shift the tide and keep the internet as we know it today.