Let’s face it, today, we live inside the Internet. Without it, our modern lives would be almost impossible. We can instantly access all web sites, social networks and content which we are consuming. For that matter, people behind those services are working hard every day to improve our experience of using their services. Net neutrality is a principle, or a set of rules, which allows, consumers, to access all web content in the same way, with the same speed and usability, it levels the playing field.
Modern human rights
Thanks to Federal Communication Commission, and their continuous efforts, these rights were officially protected in 2010 under The Federal Communications Commission Open Internet Order. It guarantees that Internet Service Providers (like Comcast, Verizon etc.) will not block, slow down or at any other way discriminate any website or content, as long as it is legal. ISPs were not thrilled because services like Netflix and YouTube were one of main reasons why data traffic skyrocketed in the last 10 years. Global mobile data traffic grew 81 percent in 2013. Shockingly, last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly 18 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000, according to CISCO. This trend isn't slowing down, and global mobile data traffic will increase nearly 11-fold between 2013 and 2018. ISPs are stating that this puts a lot of pressure on them, pressure that prevents them to capitalize on their investments and reinvesting gained money into innovative and high quality services.
FCCs change of direction
Battle for net neutrality was won, but, ISPs did not surrender. At the beginning of the year, in the Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission, Court of Appeals ruled that FCC doesn’t have the right to impose 2010 set of rules on Internet Service Providers, flushing net neutrality down the toilet.
Somehow, FCC was discouraged by this recent development and they decided that they will not appeal the court ruling. Instead, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is taking the major step back in the net neutrality stand and proposing new set of rules which will allow ISPs to introduce “fast lanes”, and consequently “slow lanes” for ones which will not play the game. That statement brought a lot of heat on the FCC and their Chairman, former cable and wireless industry lobbyist. As we are expecting FCC'scnew set of rules on May 15th, biggest tech Silicon Valley companies including Amazon, Ebay, Facebook, Google and Microsoft expressed their concerns for the future of net neutrality in the signed letter.
Welcome to the age of „buffering“
Based on court decision and FCCs latest stand, ISPs have their open hands to slice Internet in the middle, and choose who goes where. For the content providers (Netflix, YouTube etc) there is a realistic threat that if they want their content delivered to customers same as before, that they should pay extra fee to keep their service in the “fast lane”. If they do not accept, ISPs (Comcast, Verizon etc) could slow down their speed and downgrade customer experience. And the irony is, customers will blame content providers for the low-speed and slow buffering. In such cases, ISPs could arise as a saviors and offer their own content platforms with the “fast lane” accessibility. Netflix, HBO GO or YouTube (i.e. 3rd party content providers) will face lose-lose scenario. Either pay the cost to the ISPs and try to explain to their shareholders why their margins are low, or charge end customers this add-on. Guess what they will do?
In a nutshell, killing net neutrality removes the opportunity for smaller, faster and emerging providers to win big. It undermines the foundations of Internet and innovation by forcing end customers to accept something which they do not want. In today’s world, net neutrality is fundamental human right and it shouldn't be questioned.
But, as many times in life, one man's loss is another man's gain. EU politicians believe that ISPs have more than enough options to stay innovative and capitalize on their investments, even with net neutrality. Therefore, EU decided that all the traffic within EU should be treated equally. With threat of increasing costs of operations in USA, Netflix is planning to aggressively expand it service offering to European customers, and we should see more companies following this direction. Good news for Mad Men fans in Europe, you will finally have fast and affordable access to your favorite show!
What do you think FCC will decide on May 15th? Will the FCC Chairman continue to push the new "fast lane" direction? Share your thoughts in comments below.