Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independant agency in the United States government approved the net neutrality rules couple of days ago. This is a very important event and sets precedent for the events and trends to comeby in the years to follow. This is the first time someone is trying to control and regulate the internet; someone is taking in-charge for the internet in United States. What exactly is the issue? What are the consequences? What it actually means to us - 'The consumers'?
Net Neutrality as a concept has emerged largely due to the hypothetical fears and theories. At the core of issue is the assumption that the Internet service providers who owns large communication structures can control and block internet applications and content from reaching the end-users. They can even discriminate as to which website opens quickly and which does not. Net Neutrality states that everyone everywhere should have free universal and non-discriminatory access to the internet. This sheer ability of the internet pipe owners to block and discriminate the access to internet is largely seen as non-democratic and as a start for the 'oppressive internet era'. The following video gives a good idea about the issue of 'Net Neutrality'.
The Telecommunications and Internet service providing Giants such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have been waging war with united states government to control the internet in terms of blocking and discrimination (through tiered internet access) over the years. In April 2010, a court ruling even favoured the case and gave the teleocmmunication companies the ability to control the interent. That's when FCC intervened. Congress vested the powers upon FCC to regulate the internet. US Congress gave FCC sufficiently broad authority to address new issues that arise with respect to "fluid and dynamic" communications technologies. With the vested powers, FCC has passed net neutrality rules that enforces three basic rules: Transparency, No blocking and No unreasonable discrimination.
Transperency demands that ISPs publicly disclose complete information about the services including commercial terms, network management policies and performances so that consumers can make informed decisions. Non-Blocking ensures that ISPs cannot block any application, service, content, website, voice or video-based applications. No-unreasonable discrimination ensures that ISPs cannot discriminate the traffic flow in to slow lanes and fast lanes. However what is reasonable and what is unreasonable is very unclear.
FCC definitely seems to be acting the interest of open internet and net neutrality. But when looked carefully the ruling it does not appear so. FCC has created different rules for wired broadband and wirless broadband (mobile broadband - internet traffic originated through mobile phones). The ruling on Wired broadband establishes the openness of the interent and ISPs are not in a position to do any harm. But the ruling on mobile broadband favours the wireless operators. The ruling allows wireless operators to enforce greater level of discrimination and allows greater flexibility in managing their networks. Wirless broadband is the nascent stages and the current infrastructure is not capable of handling the kind of traffic growth. There's scarcity in bandwidth. Wireless operators therefore demand that they be allowed to manage their networks according to their own terms until the infrastructure is capable of supporting complete open internet just like with wired broadband! FCC succumbed to the demands! Someone aptly quoted, "Want to watch hours of YouTube videos or sort through Facebook photos on the computer? Your Internet providers would be forbidden from blocking you under rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. But if you want to do the same on your cellphone, you may not have the same protections."
The new ruling largely may not affect many consumers. The wired broadband consumers are completely protected. The wireless broadband consumers are less protected or not at all. The strong proponents of net neutrality claim that the future of internet access will be largely through mobile devices and therefore it is necessary to protect the consumers and content owners. The complete ruling can be found in the attached pdf.
This ruling has not gone well with many. I am sure there will be legal battles and oppositions in the months to follow. The world is watching this event very closely. If the openness of the internet is compromised, it is bound to set a very bad example for other countries to follow. Just imagine Airtels, IDeas, Aircels, Vodafones and docomos doing this to Indians. The openness and level playing field of the internet is what is enabling innovations and economies all over the world. The consequences of controlling the internet is unpredictable but definitely looks very ominous.
Infographics depicting Net-Neutrality scenarios
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