New FCC Proposal Threatens Future of Net Neutrality
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it would be proposing new laws on net neutrality that would allow Internet companies to charge in order to prioritize connections to web services. This comes less than two months after Netflix announced a deal with Comcast to install its own servers on Comcast’s networks, which would allow them to provide better streaming speeds to customers. Such a change in the way Internet service is conducted throws many questions into the air, including the future of the Internet itself.
The New York Times reports that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is convinced that this new proposal will not be “gutting the Open Internet rule.” However, as a former cable company lobbyist, he was described by The Verge as “the man who could control your digital life.”
Essentially, this new set of laws would give Internet providers the ability to charge large companies large sums of money to have an edge over their competition and new startups. In addition, these laws introduce another significant issue: the pricing of competition. For example, Dish Network and other television providers currently offer online streaming of television shows. However, Dish Network is a direct rival of Comcast’s cable television service. This rivalry means that Comcast could essentially tell Dish that it must pay millions of dollars or else suffer from slower streaming speeds on its networks.
Under current standards, net neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. If I create a blog, access to it is treated the same as any multimillion dollar website. If someone loads my blog or The New York Times, the Internet provider will give it the same priority.
The FCC ensures that “in all instances, broadband providers would need to act in a commercially reasonable manner subject to [FCC] review on a case-by-case basis,” according to
PCWorld.com. However, should we really trust the principles of net neutrality with the man who lobbied for massive cable companies?
The Internet has had such an enormous impact on the world because it is completely different from any form of media that existed before it. It gave what PressThink blogger Jay Rosen calls “the people formerly known as the audience” the ability to become part of the media, instead of simply tuning in. Traditional television has become an archaic form of media because it has failed to adapt to this new idea that the audience and the media are now synonymous.
Classic television as a form of media is slowly dying. Should we trust the man who lobbied for cable companies with a new and very different form of media? If companies can pay Comcast or other Internet providers for preferential service, could the future Internet turn into something more like the television services it is currently replacing? If a new social network, gaming, or video streaming company wants to enter the industry, will large amounts of red tape and throttled Internet speeds cause them to have no chance whatsoever to catch up with the big corporations?
This proposal would open the possibility of Netflix becoming the next NBC or CBS, and create an oligopoly where a college student or other ordinary person can no longer create the next big thing.
If policies like the ones the FCC is currently proposing existed a decade ago, perhaps Mark Zuckerberg could not have created Facebook. Perhaps Twitter, Dropbox, and other Internet-age companies would never have been started.
The Internet has become the place it is because anyone can create something great without the fear of red tape holding them back. Until now, Internet service has been treated as a utility, like water flowing to one’s home.
However, if Netflix, Facebook, and YouTube can pay Comcast to be the only services without unbearably slow speeds, perhaps that will stem the flow of a free Internet as we know it.