Net Neutrality for the Layperson

by HSG on May 23, 2014 in Articles from Software Fans

Net Neutrality

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You may have heard about net neutrality over the years. Recently, the concept has gone through some changes, and many would consider its underlying principles to be in danger of corruption or dissolution. However, the technical nature of net neutrality ethics makes it difficult to understand for the layperson. Read on, and the central themes and controversies surrounding the principle will be outlined and explained for your convenience.

The Theme

Net neutrality, simply put, suggests that all information on the internet should be open to everyone without any sort of restrictions to access. Restriction can take the form of outright blocking of some data, but it also includes slowing delivery speeds of other types of data. The argument for net neutrality is that the free flow of ideas over the internet can allow collaboration, innovation, and education, and restricting that flow can be seen as stymieing social progress, market growth, and factual awareness. The focus tends to be on governments restricting access, but private businesses have also played a central role in what are perceived to be dangers to net neutrality.

Past Challenges

In the past, there have been challenges to net neutrality both in America and abroad. When foreign nations have attempted to exert control over the internet, they have met with outside resistance. This resistance tends to be especially strong from Americans, and the Arab Spring was full of examples of the types of intrusions against net neutrality that the global community was worried about. When governments in Egypt, Syria, and Libya stopped their citizens from communicating with the outside world, it was principles of net neutrality that drove activists to create impromptu and innovative networking techniques to allow communication to resume.

Current Challenges

If you fast-forward to today, the assumed danger to American net neutrality comes from a combination of government and corporate influences. While the government has historically upheld the idea that no data should receive preferential treatment, a recent Supreme Court ruling involving Verizon and the Federal Communications Commission changed all that. In that decision, Verizon's ability to slow down the flow of some information was considered acceptable. This opened the door for what is known as bandwidth throttling, which just means that some people on the internet are given access to higher speeds while others could be brought down to dial-up speeds. In addition to the Supreme Court ruling, the FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for cable companies, supported a new set of rules that make it easier for throttling to occur despite earlier comments suggesting a support for net neutrality.

Moving Forward

You may be asking yourself what this means for you in real terms. The main area that you might see some change is in access to online videos, which have long been seen as a threat to cable company profits. Companies could begin charging special fees to websites that host video and other high demand content, which could result in companies that are unwilling or unable to pay the fees having their speeds reduced until they are down to the level of dial up. While large businesses like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube can offset the cost, the worry is that startups with tight budgets may be barred from growth.

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