At around 1 p.m. yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favor of enforcing net neutrality by reclassifying the Internet as a Title II utility service, and thus reclassifying Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common carriers whose treatment of network traffic are regulated by the FCC.
Since this is a fairly complicated issue, I’ll use an analogy to explain. Imagine the Internet is a series of roads, the access restrictions are snow, the drivers are Internet users and the snowplows are ISPs. For the sake of this analogy, let’s pretend that for whatever reason, the FCC is in charge of snow removal.
Without FCC regulation, the snowplows are free to clear the snow however they want. The snow on roads, for which owners can pay large amounts of money will be removed thoroughly, and thus traffic will flow smoothly. The smaller roads, for which owners cannot pay as large a fee, will still have snow removed, but not nearly as efficiently. This will result in clogged roads and traffic jams. The roads, for which owners can pay no money, will simply be inaccessible.
With FCC regulation, however, the snowplows will treat all the roads with equal priority. Regardless of the size of the road, the snow will be removed sufficiently, and traffic will simply depend on the amount of drivers trying to access the road.
While some may argue that this is not an efficient business model, it helps to step away from the analogy, now that you (hopefully) understand the issue. The ISPs will still receive money from users who are paying for their services, but will not be able to receive additional money from the actual Web site owners to allow preferential treatment.
This, in turn, allows Internet innovation. Companies such as Facebook were not always massive, profitable corporations – they started off as small, privately run Web sites. Thanks to net neutrality, they were able to become the “next big thing.” Were it not for net neutrality, we might still be using MySpace, or even Friendster.
You may be wondering what this has to do with you, especially if you do not own a Web site. The fact of the matter is we have no say in how fast we can access Web sites – it is ultimately up to the ISPs. Some companies, such as Comcast, at least in 2007, have taken advantage of this power and enacted the types of restrictions that the aforementioned reclassification prohibits.
This can no longer happen, thanks to the Internet’s reclassification, and I’m glad. Can you imagine what it would be like living in a world where accessing Facebook is easier than accessing a healthcare Web site, just because Facebook is a large corporation?
Sure, it sounds too ridiculous to be true. Yet, it was nonetheless possible prior to the Internet’s reclassification. But now, thanks to the FCC’s vote, it’s no longer a possibility.