Prioritization fine if free, open Internet isn’t hurt
Want to watch your favorite channel on YouTube? For a steal of only $4.99 a month, you can add the online video streaming package! Want to see results on Google pertaining to your favorite sports team? The all-access sports package can be accessed for an amazing $14.99 a month! While this sounds ridiculous, regulations are currently not in place to prevent this from happening.
Last week, President Obama addressed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with a statement in favor of preventing this from happening, stating that Internet Service Providers (ISPs)should be subject to the following rules: “no blocking,” “no throttling,” “increased transparency,” and “no paid prioritization.” He stated that if implemented correctly, this would hold no extra heavy burden on ISPs and would guarantee that the principles of an open and free Internet remain in the future. Nearly anyone can agree that blocking and throttling services are bad for everyone, though the claim for “no paid prioritization” takes the issue into murkier waters and opens up the issue to many more questions.
Connections to Internet addresses should not be discriminated by based on how much the service has paid to an ISP. Connections to the Internet should be treated as a utility. Like water and electricity, the Internet is a shared resource. Therefore, it should be treated like one, and companies like Comcast should simply be providing the gateway to them. Whenever Internet providers begin to degrade quality on the terms that services pay up, everyone suffers.
Earlier this year, when Comcast demanded ransom from Netflix in order for its users to be provided with normal access speed, it overstepped its boundary and showed just what is possible if we let the oligopoly of ISPs have power over the entire Internet. Until Netflix paid up, customers of the service suffered with degraded quality, and Netflix was burdened with loads of extra customer service requests. Comcast charging Netflix for its popularity among customers would be similar to electrical companies charging Apple because people are using up a lot of the power grid charging their iPhones and iPads. This move by Comcast was anti-competitive and gave other companies an unfair leverage.
While connections to the Internet should not be discriminated against, paid prioritization should be allowed in some cases. Differentiation should be made between simply discriminating against someone’s service and providing special hardware to optimize its speed. For example, if a company such as Apple or Google wishes to provide an online television service or OnLive wishes to provide online gaming directly through hard wiring with a company like Comcast, this should not be banned by net neutrality legislation.
Things like set top boxes with hardware lanes to specialized online services should be allowed; this would essentially mirror the concept of a television service. In addition, net neutrality laws should not ban things like Comcast’s Content Delivery Network. Some companies have already paid Comcast and others to build direct hardware interconnections, which the FCC is currently not classifying as a net neutrality issue.
In this case, Comcast is providing a service to online companies by allowing them to use specialized content delivery networks to speed up access; this is different from tiering the cost of Internet speeds for services or forcing services to pay up in order to remain online. In this case, companies are paying Internet providers for a direct connection to their servers, which improves their services and in no way degrades the connections of services not using hardware specialization.
Barriers should be put in place to ensure that Internet providers do not slow down the connections of companies who do not pay up or remove access to their site altogether. The Internet is open and free and should remain as such. However, at the same time, net neutrality should not stand as a barrier to innovation. Providers should be allowed to provide premium access to content delivery networks or direct hardware implementation into their servers. Providers should also be allowed to create hardware optimizations for specialized uses. However, we must also ensure that the rest of the Internet does not suffer and be placed in a slow lane.