Data Doctors: The battle over Net Neutrality

Q: What exactly is Net Neutrality and how does it affect me or my business?

A: The concept of Net Neutrality is that all information that travels across the Internet, whether it’s streaming video, email messages or a brochure on your company’s website, should be treated equally.

No information gets priority over any other information when the network is neutral and when I refer to the ‘Network’, it really refers to your Internet Service Provider.

At the moment, ISPs can’t strike special deals to allow certain web services to have a faster lane via the Internet to your home or business. If a proposal by the FCC is adopted, this could all change.

The FCC is proclaiming that it will keep the Internet ‘open’ by not allowing ISPs to block or slow access to any web services, but the proposed change would allow ISPs to charge content providers for what is being called ‘paid prioritization’.

While no one would be forced to pay the priority fees, it would certainly tip the playing field to those with the ability to pay.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this ‘tiered’ approach to content could squeeze the little guys out and slowly change the Internet to look more like cable or satellite TV offerings.

If these new rules were in place years ago, companies like Netflix, Hulu or any number of other startups could have been disadvantaged because they likely wouldn’t have been able to afford the priority fees when they were just getting started.

The neutral Internet has fostered amazing new companies that came out of nowhere and many are speculating that this change would stifle innovation and give large content providers an unfair advantage.

To be fair, large content providers such as Netflix do put a big strain on an ISP’s resources because streaming video requires a lot more bandwidth than e-mail or basic web surfing.

A recent study suggests that Netflix accounts for 30% of Internet web traffic into homes during peak evening viewing hours and YouTube accounts for another 11%.

In the ISPs minds, content providers that chew up more of their bandwidth should pay a priority access fee to help pay for increased infrastructure, but that being said, the last time I looked, these companies are very profitable using the current rules.

All ISPs are not the same when it comes to the ability to deliver streaming video and both Netflix  and Google  have created resources that allow you to see how well the ISPs in your area are doing.

So why are they trying to fix something that many feel isn’t broken? 

Look no further than the players in this typical Washington DC game: The former FCC chairman Michael Powell is now the head of the powerful National Cable & Telecommunications Association lobbying group and the former head of the NCTA is now the Chairman of the FCC.  The two have essentially swapped seats, which leads to many questions about motivations and allegiances.

If you want to be heard, the FCC is asking for public comments on these proposed changes here (click on Proceeding #14-28).

You can also learn more or use the less complicated method of submitting your comments via the Save the Internet website.

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