Net neutrality is the principle that internet access should be available at a constant speed for all users regardless of the activity. It essentially means that internet service providers are not at liberty to throttle bandwidth for any reason. This legal concept means that they cannot discriminate or use different charging rates based on content, user, platform, application, website, communication mode, or the type of equipment.
If the FCC proposal for net neutrality is enforced, internet service providers will be required to charge streaming services the same rates that they charge other data uses. Moreover, the government will have the power to step in to regulate the rates to protect the consumers and the web content providers.
What Is Net Neutrality?
At the moment, the internet economy is largely open thanks to the 1996 Telecommunication Act, which allows internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast to set their own rates. It also allows them to charge higher or lower depending on the use of data, relationship with the content providers, or any other arbitrary reason.
In 2011, Verizon blocked Google Wallet on smartphones due to hostile working relations. Under net neutrality, Verizon would be breaking the law for doing so. This means that the internet service provider would be required to host the infrastructure of their rivals (in other business areas) by the government.
Proponents of net neutrality such as Tom Wheeler from the FCC have suggested that net neutrality is the only way to prevent private companies from blocking traffic to websites and content providers who adhere to the US laws. These proponents have argued for net neutrality as the only way to prevent the creation of fast lanes for friendly companies while throttling or overcharging the rivals.
They opine that the 1996 Telecommunication Act is not applicable in the face of such business malpractices. They argue for the application of Title II of the 1934 Communication Act, which would allow the government to treat the internet as a public utility. The internet would essentially fall in the same category as telegraph, radio, and ordinary phone services that are a public service.
Data Services and Streaming
Under net neutrality, content creators such as Netflix and cloud service companies will be able to charge lower since the government will protect them from discriminatory practices of internet service providers. The need for Apache Kafka leads to heavy data consumption with such services. Consumers who stream entertainment content from such companies will benefit from the lower charges in the short-term.
Internet service providers have come out in objection of net neutrality citing that it will open up channels for the government to micromanage the internet and essentially socialize the internet business. They have stated that it is highly likely that a government rate will be relatively high for the average internet user who rarely uses the internet for data-hungry applications such as casual browsing.
Other parties who are against net neutrality have expressed concern that regulating the internet will kill innovation, as internet service providers will no longer find it beneficial to invest in expensive research. Aside from high data bills, they have stated that net neutrality will hurt innovation and may be detrimental to the entire internet business and consumption in the end as innovation diminishes. For casual internet users, net neutrality will have a negative impact on their bills. Casual internet users will essentially be subsidizing the power users.
Net neutrality is an important area of concern for internet service providers, content providers, the government, and internet consumers. The subject raises many questions regarding the future of the internet as an open business platform. The proponents of net neutrality hope to have the government regulating traffic like a public commodity.
On the other hand, those who oppose net neutrality hope to maintain internet freedom by keeping the government regulation away from the web as much as possible. Streaming will be relatively cheap under net neutrality in the short term. However, too much government control will kill the industry in the long-term by discouraging potential investors due to regulations.