The following article was published in today’s edition of Seacoast Sunday.
There has been a lot of buzz about Net Neutrality in the news over the past few weeks. This has primarily been driven by the Federal Communications Commission’s adoption of new rules to protect Net Neutrality.
Last month, I was in Washington, D.C., and heard a presentation from an FCC commissioner regarding Net Neutrality. This particular commissioner was in the minority and voted against the new rules, in part because of the contention that the FCC is adopting outdated rules, originally developed for the telecommunications industry, to address this issue. These rules are often referred to as the Title 2 regulations. While I agree that Title 2 is becoming outdated, it was part of the Telecommunications Act of 1934, the way the FCC intends to apply certain elements of the rules is applicable.
Here’s the fundamental issue of Net Neutrality. This is an oversimplification, but I think a good illustration. Let’s look at two giants in the media and communications space, Comcast and Disney. Many years ago, Disney bought the television network ABC. Comcast owns NBC Universal. While Disney and Comcast may not exactly be direct competitors, clearly ABC and NBC are. In this example, let’s look at Comcast, NBC and ABC. Comcast is a both an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and a content provider. An ISP is a company that provides Internet access to consumers and businesses. A content provider provides content to consumers and business across the Internet and other mediums like broadcast television and others. In this example, ABC and NBC are content providers.
Without Net Neutrality regulations, Comcast could provide faster access to NBC than to ABC. Remember that Comcast owns NBC and ABC is a competitor, so it would have competitive reasons to want NBC content to be more available than ABC, in theory. Or, it could charge ABC a premium to allow its content to be available at the same prioritization and speed of NBC’s. If you are streaming the latest episode of The Blacklist from nbc.com, in the example here, it would play beautifully and you would be very happy. On the other hand, without Net Neutrality if you are steaming the latest episode of Scandal from abc.com, the playback may be choppy or just two poor to want to watch. Unless ABC pays Comcast to provide its show at the same prioritization and speed of their own NBC shows. With Net Neutrality, the FCC will insure both shows are available with the exact same prioritization and speed. It will prohibit an ISP like Comcast from providing a better experience for content that it wants to or to those content providers who pay it for a so called “fast lane” across the Internet.
Please keep in mind this is just an example. There is no evidence that Comcast does anything like this today. Net Neutrality is aimed at making sure it and other ISPs never will. As you can see from this example, the issue is potentially quite damaging to content providers who might not be able to purchase this type of “fast lane.” Net Neutrality insures this won’t happen. Without Net Neutrality, there could be very negative impacts on consumers and businesses trying to use services and access content online, potentially making some of these services so poor that you will be forced to find other services. That would create an unfair competitive advantage to those companies that would be able to pay to insure their services work properly on the Internet.
The entire issue of Net Neutrality has been hotly contested. Content providers along with companies like Apple and Google, who are so dependent on an open and unrestricted Internet for their businesses, are staunchly in support of it. ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are not in favor of it. They fear the FCC regulating the Internet will lead to rate regulation and taxation that to date, has been avoided on the Internet. The FCC insists that they have no intention of regulating rates or implementing taxes on Internet access. They are only concerned with insuring the Internet remains an open communications platform for consumers and businesses alike. I think we can all agree that is a good thing. Whether the new FCC rules are the best way to insure this, time will tell. I think it’s a step in the right direction and will insure proper protection for consumer and business Internet users alike.
This will all come into more focus over the next 60 days, during the review period for these new rules before they take formal effect. While the current set of FCC rules may not be perfect in everyone’s estimation, it is a step in the right direction for us all.