Net Neutrality: You need to get involved

I don’t care if you are the kind of person who never gets involved in politics or this kind of public discussion. Net Neutrality is one issue that you need to weigh in on now.

How many of you are familiar with the whole Net Neutrality thing? I know most of you have heard the term and see stories from time to time, but do you really understand it? If not, you damn well should become familiar with it fast. Net neutrality could change the way you and I get internet access from now on.

You know how Verizon mobile users get exclusive NFL content for like five bucks a month? They get live games streamed, red zone, etc. It always irked me that just because I am an AT&T customer I was not allowed to sign up for this. Are AT&T customers’ second-class citizens to the NFL?

What about if your YouTube would not play HD or was impossibly slow if you didn’t pay Comcast a fee, or if Google didn’t share profits with your ISP? How does that sound? Crazy, right? Are you enjoying that game that you actually paid money for the ad-free version? How about if your ISP put ads in because you didn’t pay them their pound of flesh, too?

I don’t want my ISP to have the power to decide what I should or should not be able to watch, or what QoS or priority bandwidth my different apps have. I don’t want them holding my content providers hostage if they don’t give the ISP a slice of the pie.

If we throw out Net Neutrality, all of this and more is in all of our futures. Your ISP or bandwidth provider will be able to decide which apps and services you can access unfettered, which streams will run at full speed and which will be throttled, where ads are inserted and where they are not, and so on.

All of this is due to the fact that in the rush to deregulate, the FCC ruled that cable companies and wireless carriers are not utilities like electric and water companies (and like phone companies used to be). Instead, they were classified as something else. They were not common carriers.

Imagine a phone company saying you couldn't call a particular number because it was not in the phone carrier’s network. How about an airline saying if you are not in a frequent flyer program they won’t sell you a ticket? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Well that is because they are common carriers who must provide neutrality. The same logic should naturally flow for net access, perhaps even more so.

But back in 2005, the powerful lobby of the cable and wireless companies helped to have them removed from common carrier status. They were “information” services. Faced with the reality of a world without net neutrality, the FCC imposed an ad-hoc rule that imposed a Solomon-like solution of cutting the baby in half. Though not carriers, they still had to conform to net neutrality. The court struck down this compromise as not being based in fact this month.

Now it is the wild west. ISPs will be free to do what they want. AT&T already is starting with a program to discount some content toward for users' bandwidth if it swallows the ads they will send along with it. Buffering Netflix so it doesn’t take up so much of the ISPs’ bandwidth without them sharing in the revenue is soon to follow.

These are only the tip of the iceberg. If you think Steve Jobs owned the music industry as a result of iTunes, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until the minions from Comcast, Time-Warner, Verizon, etc., put the squeeze on net content providers. I can tell you who is going to wind up paying the piper here. You and me, that's who.

I don't care if you are the kind of person who never gets involved in politics or this kind of public discussion. Net Neutrality is one issue that you need to weigh in on now. Let your public officials know you will not be held hostage by your ISP.

There really is a very easy solution to all of this as well. The FCC has it in their power (and the courts have even come out and said as much) to change their mind. They can say that the ISPs are in fact common carriers. This would impose net neutrality on them.

It won’t be easy, though. There are powerful big corporate forces lined up against this common sense solution. There are the “deregulate everything” types who say we don’t need “no stinkin’ socialist regulations.” There are fancy corporate lobbyists getting fat with cable and mobile carriers fees, down in Washington, D.C., lined up against this. There are ISP executives dreaming of sugar plums, big corporate profits and huge bonus and stock grants pushing against net neutrality.

On the other side of this are people like you and me. We live on the net. For work, for information, for communication, for entertainment - we need untethered net access. We shouldn’t be held hostage to the corporate greed. In fact, net neutrality should be a basic tenant of our system. But to defeat the forces lined up against net neutrality, every single one of us needs to stand up and be counted. Now is not the time for apathy. Don’t be a victim. To quote another American when he felt the future of his country was at risk:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in the crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." -Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

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