Archived Story

Neutrality is crucial for future of the Internet

Published 9:44am Friday, April 25, 2014

Things I Tell My Wife by Matthew Knutson

“What’s the Internet like in Madagascar?” I asked my wife as I read about the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to modify net neutrality. Her response, in a long, drawn out word, was, “Slow!”

That’s exactly how the Internet could feel if the FCC’s proposal is passed on May 15. To be fair, the modifications in net neutrality wouldn’t actually slow down anyone’s Internet, but it would provide businesses the opportunity to purchase improved Internet speeds from broadband providers, creating a fast lane for companies that can afford it.

Is it a big deal? Yes and no.

A business that can afford to deliver its content faster than competitors would receive a huge advantage, and once that advantage is firmly established, could pass the cost down to the consumer.

That might mean higher prices for services like Netflix and Skype. It might also mean their competitors have even more hurdles to overcome, thus removing the neutral ground that has been the foundation for the Internet as we’ve known it.

This is just one more step toward broadband companies monetizing their services in a new way. Years ago when net neutrality first came on the scene, people feared broadband companies would slow other websites from loading while boosting others, therefore determining for the consumer what their preference would be. If Bing loaded 10 times faster than Google, you’d probably be much more inclined to Binging the term “net neutrality” than Googling it. Thankfully the slowing of Internet services is not yet on the table.

I say not yet because that is the direction things are headed. As lobbyists continue to push the needle and gain traction, it’s likely only a matter of time before the FCC makes another proposal in favor of even less neutral ground for the Internet.

Suppose your Internet service provider decided it didn’t like what Twitter was doing, so it decided to radically slow down its load time, or simply make it unavailable.

The entire country of Turkey did just that in March because tweets were sent out that their prime minister was allegedly acting corruptly. The motivation for this would seem unlikely from an Internet provider, but would it stop them from slowing down a competitor’s websites?

Controlling Internet access comes with great power, and it would not be wise to transfer that power to businesses motivated by making a profit rather than providing the best service for consumers.

A recent example of Internet power comes from Russia. A social network similar to Facebook was just transferred to the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies.

The site’s founder fled the country after initially denying the government’s attempts to use the site to spy on the social network’s users. Now in the hands of the government, could the country not weaken all other social networks, thus driving consumers toward sharing private information with the government via their own social media platform?

It’s obviously not the same as America’s net-neutrality issue, but if a broadband provider began to control a social media website or other important sites to the general public, potentially scary situations can arise.

When my wife calls her home country via Skype, her relatives are using a prepaid Internet card to have access to the Web. Madagascar, like many countries in Africa and throughout the world, doesn’t have easy Internet access in many areas.

Imagine if our service provider had a contract with Skype to provider super fast voice and video calls in America, but in Madagascar, Google was paying my in-laws’ service provider for their Google Hangouts service to have faster load times. Communication suddenly gets much more complicated and costly if you’re paying per minute of service like my wife’s family.

The Internet should remain an unrestricted place that is accessible and equal for all users. Can we control what other countries do? Not easily, but at the very least, America can model what a neutral internet looks like.

If you want to learn more about why having a neutral Internet is important, I encourage you to visit savetheinternet.com. The Internet has literally changed how the world operates. Let’s not let our providers change how the Internet operates for us.

 

Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.