Net Neutrality

Let us keep the internet free and neutral…

On February 26th 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the US formally approved the New Net Neutrality Rules. For close to 13 years, this topic has been a major bone of contention between the Internet Service Providers, Content Companies and the users. So what exactly is net neutrality?

But, first who are the players…

Typically, there are 3 key players. The ISPs install and manage the gateway to the internet. The major ISPs in the US are Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon. The content companies like Facebook, Instagram, Hulu and Netflix use the internet bandwidth to transport their content. Finally, there are the end users who subscribe to these content services delivered via the internet.

Prior to the FCC ruling, a major US ISP like Comcast or Time Warner could easily decide who should get how much bandwidth and at what speed. In a way this went against the grain of the internet, which was all about democracy of information and access. But the ISPs also had a sound logic to this argument.

What about net congestion…

Major ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner have a different take on net neutrality. What if a software pirate is squatting on precious bandwidth and using net neutrality to further an illegal business. Secondly, ISPs invest, manage and nurture these internet gates. They surely expect a reasonable ROI on their investment. Lastly, one needs to understand that the internet is like a national highway where the packets of data are akin to cars jostling for space. Every highway has the leeway to prioritize; like the HOV lanes or the T2 and T3 lanes for more popular and emergency services. The question is who decides these priorities? Will an understaffed government department be able to do this? Or is it best left to the invisible hand of the market?

Who owns the internet anyway?

That is probably the million dollar question. Who controls access to the internet should depend on who actually owns the internet. Sadly, there are no clear answers. The second question is whether net neutrality is beneficial to end users. Hard to say, but users did not experience higher speeds or lower rates on the morning of February 27th.

The truth is a lot more complicated. Some of the finest kids of the internet like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox were all born before net neutrality. So it would be inapt to say that absence of net neutrality stifles innovation. Also net speeds are not entirely controlled by ISPs. There is also the last mile efficiency involved. But for the time being, it is all about net neutrality. Its practical utility, of course, is still open to a vigorous debate. ©

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