Breaking Down the Net Neutrality Pros and Cons

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Net neutrality pros and cons is a hot topic of conversation in most of the Facebook groups I’m in. I receive numerous communications from people on both sides of the issue. These include groups that circulate petitions asking Congress to repeal the new FCC regulations, saying they’ll cause the Internet to explode.

There’s also the other side of the coin, the people that say that without the recent net neutrality rule the FCC just came out with, the Internet is going to explode and life as we know it will end.

A Look Back at the History of the FCC Net Neutrality Ruling

Not too long ago, there was a court case where the FCC tried to use certain provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to control what broadband providers can and can’t do, both to their customers and the content providers their customers are trying to gain access to. The court ruled that the FCC was applying the provisions of the Act incorrectly and that the Internet does not fall under their jurisdiction in the way they thought.

The History of the Main Argument at the Root of the Ruling

Not too long ago the time most people spent on the Internet was limited to some light research, a bit of email, and maybe some YouTube clips. These days most families have at least one or two devices streaming full movies throughout the day. This stresses the provider’s network. To ease this stress, many providers have been trying to enter into “co-connection contracts” with content providers like Netflix and Hulu to increase the size of the pipe available for their content, while those not signing these agreements would be shunted to a traffic “slow lane.”

Herein lies the main crux of the issue. Most of the main broadband providers are also content providers. This means that they can and will charge other content providers for “priority access” to their customers. One of the main questions has been how are to know that they’ll grant equal access to their competitors even if they’re paid for it?

One of the main points of disagreement between broadband providers and consumer spokespeople have when the pros and cons of net neutrality are discussed is that the providers feel that when their customer pays them for a monthly subscription for Internet access, they’re actually only paying for access to the provider network, not the content the customer actually wants to see. Being able to view that content should cost extra. The providers feel that the delivery of the content from the content provider to the content consumer should be paid for. In other words: “You pay us for access to the Internet, now pay us for the content you want.”

What the FCC Ruling Says in a Nutshell

The ruling is covered in a 400 page document. To say it’s long and wordy is an understatement. However, the main takeaway of the ruling is that the Internet has been classes as a Title II Public Utility under the 1934 Communications Act. The main gist of the ruling basically means that nothing is going to change. Your Internet provider isn’t going to be able to charge you or your movie provider for priority access so you can watch movies. Small companies also won’t have to pay extra to have equal access to your web browser.

The ruling establishes the Internet as a public utility and broadband Internet as a “common carrier” utility. This allows the FCC to regulate the Internet and companies providing access to it.

Why All the Screaming? Net Neutrality is a Good Thing

If you’ve been paying attention to the “discussion” surrounding the issue of net neutrality, you’ve heard numerous people screaming numerous things. “Let the industry regulate itself!” “The Act is obsolete, let’s do nothing.” “The Act is obsolete; let’s ask industry for their input.” In my opinion, it all boils down to “We want new ways to make money from an established business model.”

Detractors have come up with all sorts of scenarios designed to raise your hackles, but unfortunately also designed to misinform. “It’s going to stifle and innovation!” Oh really? In a field where if you don’t innovate you go out of business? Not terribly likely.

“It’s going to stifle investment in broadband build out.” Again, I have to ask, really? In an industry where if you don’t keep advancing you fall backward? I admit that this ruling may slow the level of investment in network improvement and build out over the short term, but companies are in business to make money. If they don’t stay at least level with the times, they’re going to fail. If they don’t grow their business, they have fewer options to increase their profit. They will build and expand networks because they’ll have to in order to keep the doors open.

Pros and Cons of the Net Neutrality Ruling

In my opinion, this is the best way to determine whether net neutrality, the Open Internet is a good thing is to see who supports and opposes it. Major broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon are set to sue the FCC over the recent ruling. Content providers and consumer groups like Netflix and the ACLU are completely behind it. Those that oppose it say that the Communications Act of 1934 and Tittle II are too old to be applied to the Internet, while FCC Commissioner Wheeler said in a news conference that the ruling was tailored to take every concern into account, calling it a 21st Century Title II.”

Personally, it’s been far too long in coming. Let me know what you think about the pros and cons of net neutrality in the comments below. Will it be a good thing or a bad thing?

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