Sheila has a question about a term we hear tossed around a lot these days. She writes:
“I would like to know exactly what net neutrality means and how it would affect us. Your answers are always understandable. Glad you’re here.”
Thank you, Sheila. I’m might darn glad to be here. Net Neutrality is a complicated issue that I’m going to try to break down in simple terms while offering a very abbreviated summary of the opposing sides on this issue.
Net Neutrality aims to make sure that all traffic accessing the Internet is treated the same by the companies providing the access. The would include ISPs like AT&T or your cable company and companies that route the traffic between you and that company.
The FCC had offered a proposal that would require companies to offer a baseline level of services to everyone but also permit them to go into negotiations with companies like Netflix and perhaps offer them a faster rate to stream to their customers.
Those in favor of net neutrality say that rules must be enforced to make sure every customer is treated exactly the same and that faster speeds not be provided to large companies. Some argue that allowing the faster service to service like Netflix would allow their customer to receive better service and potentially lower prices. Other businesses often allow discounts to companies that use a service or product in bulk.
But this could also mean that a company like Comcast could choose to offer a slower speed to Netflix. Some argue that’s unfair to Netflix and to Netflix consumers. But the ISP could argue that Netflix streaming takes up a huge amount of the Internet bandwidth, more than any other service and that they should pay a little more for all of the resources they use. For example, all vehicles driving on a toll road are not treated equally. There are different speed limits and different toll prices for semi trucks than there are for compact cars.
There’s also a question of who would oversee net neutrality? Who would be the governing body to determine what is fair?
Those in favor of Net Neutrality worry that companies could impose their own form of censorship by offering lower speeds to content they don’t want you to see.
Opponents of Net Neutrality argue that if ISPs are allowed to charge more to companies that use a lot of bandwidth like Netflix, they can use that money to expand their infrastructure thus making more bandwidth available.
Proponents say it’s the only way to make sure that there’s a level playing field.
Truthfully, I feel in either situation, the home consumer will probably end up footing the bill. Either your ISP will charge you more because they have to give a flat rate to companies that use a lot of bandwidth or the company that they are charging more for bandwidth will raise your rates.
How you feel about Net Neutrality will probably depend on your feeling about how much supervision you feel the government should have over communications.
I hope this helps a bit.