Net Neutrality through regulation and competition might seem like mixing oil with water depending on what side of the political spectrum you fall on. If you are The Verge and are passionate about the subject you will swear (literally) that the problem lies with the FCC and regulations are the savior of the free and open internet. Other impassioned writers like Mat Honan at Gizmodo have argued that competition is the true savior that will keep prices down and speeds up. The answer may lie somewhere in the middle.
Net Neutrality is a very basic concept that on face value smacks of common sense. The principle is that Internet Service Providers should treat all data on the internet equally. In practice that means Netflix should be just as important as the email from your sister across the country as far as data speeds are concerned. The concept is a response to ISP’s who want to charge consumers based on how much data they use or companies that produce content for faster delivery.
An extreme example would be where a small pizza shop is advertising specials on their website. However, a large national chain pizzeria is paying Comcast extra bucks to prioritize their traffic making the local shop’s site load very slow and the chain’s site nice and fast. Or Netflix suddenly can’t produce a beautiful SuperHD picture because TimeWarner is making Netflix pay for the bandwidth they use and when they refuse, TimeWarner slows their connection down.
While situations like these are extreme, they are not without precedence. In 2007 Comcast blocked all its subscribers from using the bittorrent protocol. While most people think of bittorrent as something used to download illegal movies and music (which it can be) it is also a great way to distribute legal and free material to people around the world. But since it takes a great deal of bandwidth, Comcast blocked it and didn’t change the policy until the FCC got involved. More recently, AT&T’s sponsored data plan which The Inquisitr reported on during CES shows how a tiered service can be used against the Net Neutrality standards. And until the FCC gets the language right, the courts say the FCC can not stop providers from establishing a system like the one above.
What makes the situation more frustrating is that the US is being surpassed by other countries in terms of internet speeds. South Korea is almost half as expensive as US broadband speeds and more than 4 times as fast. While South Korea is an entirely different country with cultural, geographical and governmental differences they have one major factor that the United States does not: Competition.
In the United States, the majority of cable infrastructure came from franchise contracts from the local governments. Once a local area had a company such as Cox or TimeWarner installed along with city infrastructure, the potential for another competitor to enter the marketplace was nearly impossible. The company would have to lay their own lines, pay the myriad of fees and regulation costs all while dealing with competition. Have you ever called your company to cancel and be offered a sweet deal to stay on a few months? New companies struggle against these situations and often do not make it.
In South Korea open networks are also the norm. This means that, for a fee, companies can utilize the same cables drastically reducing the cost for a new company to make a start. In the United States, open networks are not required.
Data usage is also a valid concern. Netflix and other video streaming services make up a great deal of bandwidth consumption on the internet. And as The Inquisitr reported, mobile and tablet device data usage is only going to keep rising.
So how does the United States solve the problem of making the internet access free and unbiased? The answer lies in both regulation and competition. Competition not only from other cable providers, but Wireless broadband internet service, fiber optic and other alternatives to cable ISP’s. To make these feasible options, the FCC must foster and encourage such competition rather than enforce something that will end up in more court cases making articles like this necessary.