Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Net Neutrality and the FCC

Tags: fcc, net neutrality

With a new administration in the White House, new ideas and political views are brought to the forefront. While health care, the economy, the war on terror, and a multitude of other topics are constantly being debated, another far-reaching issue has had a fairly significant turn of events - net neutrality.

For the uninitiated, net neutrality is the concept that networks should not restrict access to any sites or content while also dealing with the notion that fees should not change based on usage. For a more in depth explanation, there's always Wikipedia's definition.

Discussions of net neutrality have been around for awhile (especially with many ISPs changing their policies to go against net neutrality), but a new statement by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski may stir up the neutrality debate once more. With Genachowski's comments being a declaration of support for and enforcement of net neutrality, we may start seeing those cable companies changing their policies back to what they once were.

So what do I think of net neutrality? Well, let me first say that service providers should definitely not be allowed to discriminate against the type of traffic that goes through their networks. It's no business of theirs whether a person is watching a YouTube video, playing a game, or downloading porn. With that said, I'm on the fence with regards to the practice of putting a cap on how much a person can download or to charge per gigabyte. I know not supporting net neutrality 100% is quite controversial with the "internet crowds" but that's only because too many people think they are entitled to everything these days. The fact of the matter is that most of us pay different amounts for gas and electricity depending on use. Cell phone companies have different plans based on how much talk time, text messages, and internet data you need. So why is it that we are all so angry when we hear about an ISP wanting to charge more for those that use more?

By some accounts, most of the internet bandwidth is being used by a select few (a select few that are generally doing illegal and morally questionable activities). If that's the case, an ISP could charge regular users less than they do now while making those that "suck up" most of the bandwidth pay more. I don't see how that's even remotely unfair. Not to mention it may cut down on some of the less ethical practices out there like illegal downloads and deployment of malicious programs.

With that all said, let me remind you that I'm definitely not against net neutrality and that I'm merely "on the fence" with regards to pricing models. The main reason I'm hesitant to jump on board the pay as you use pricing model is that it very well could stifle innovation and cripple some incredibly useful technologies. Perhaps the most impacted area would be streaming media websites and services (ala NetFlix, Hulu, and Pandora). An online backup service I've just recently started using, Carbonite would probably be rendered useless if people had to pay their ISP based on usage. I'm currently backing up just under 10 GB (only small portion of my harddrive), but that'd likely put a big enough dent in my usage each month that I wouldn't be able to use the service. So putting some sort of cap on usage or charging per byte could definitely be disastrous.

I guess it all comes down to whether or not we can trust the ISPs to be fair with how they would restructure their pricing models. With their history of monopolizing local networks and recent abuses that include restricting certain Web traffic, secretly throttling speeds, and pretty much lying about it all the while - I guess I'm not really as "on the fence" about net neutrality as I thought I was.


  1. Net Morality - FCC Chairman Outlines Stance on Net Said:

    [...] fcc, net neutrality A few weeks ago the FCC came out and declared that they would be supporting the idea of net neutrality. At the time, there weren’t any real specifics talked about so [...]

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