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article imageOp-Ed: Net 'Neutrality' may not be 'equality' for all

By George McGinn     Jul 19, 2014 in Technology
Our country is famous for giving its people freedoms, then slowly over time it takes them away one by one.
And next on the list of freedoms we may start to lose is Internet access. And in some ways, it has already begun.
The FCC is considering a law, "Net Neutrality" that in theory is to keep Internet Service Providers (ISP) from creating different access speeds based on the content you request.
However, ISP's like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T and others want to vary the speeds that you receive data based on the content you requested or on who is providing the data.
For example, you subscribe to a company to allow you to download music or stream a movie, but your ISP may allow it but at a much slower speed, while giving users browsing websites faster access.
This will force many content providers to pay the ISP for the right to provide its customers, the same customers who are paying the ISPs, for faster access or smooth streaming content. Once this happens, there may be no going back.
On one side, ISP's are complaining that many people, their subscribers, are playing games, watching HD movies and downloading songs, which can take up a lot of its available bandwidth. In return, to provide gamers and video streamers with uninterrupted access, other subscribers are suffering slower speeds accessing data, like banking and financial data from websites.
On the other side, subscribers and those opposed to varying speeds based on content feel that everyone should be charged the same and that there is enough bandwidth to provide the same access speeds. That the Internet is a peerless network, and anyone who hooks into the pipeline must allow for content to pass through it, or as it is called an Open Connect service.
How 'Net Neutrality" got its start
To understand what is at the core of the issue, you need to know what's at stake.
In 2003, Tim Wu, a Columbia media professor came up with the term "Net Neutrality" to sum up the long accepted concept of an Internet free of discrimination, and all Internet Service Providers and governments must treat everyone who uses the Internet, whether to access it or provides a website that provides content, equally, and not restrict access and access speeds based on who you are or where the data comes from.
Current proposed legislation
The FCC is now considering a two-pronged approach to Internet access. The first part is to allow ISP's to grant content providers with unlimited bandwidth. The other allows the ISP to provide a slower or more regulated access speeds to individual users. This is known as the "fast lane, slow lane" approach.
Proponents of Internet regulation want to take this further by allowing ISP's to slow down access based on the type of data and who provides it. This then affects the user who wants it.
The end result could be a law allowing companies to discriminate against you based on your socioeconomic status. If you can afford it, you get the fastest access available. If you are poor, your access will be spotty at best. This applies not only to the individual subscribers, but to content providers as well.
What's happening now?
In January, Netflix paid Comcast for unimpeded access to Comcast's networks so its subscribers can enjoy fast uninterrupted streaming of movies, especially high-definition (HD) movies.
However, if you are a Netflix customer and your ISP uses Comcast equipment to stream your movie, expect slower streaming speeds since you are not a Comcast customer.
Since the deal with Comcast, most all ISP's are refusing to connect to Netflix without receiving payment first. Otherwise, Netflix customers will have to put up with spotty HD streaming of their movies.
Comcast noticed that more than 30 percent of all their traffic during peak times came from Netflix alone, and within months, Netflix subscribers on Comcast started to notice the change in streaming speeds.
Before I moved out of Verizon's area and into Comcast's area, I noticed that many of my my Netflix, Huluplus and YouTube videos would error or time out. Now I have Comcast and this is no longer an issue. But is it right?
The United Nations declares Internet Access a human rights issue
Adding more complexity to whether or not the FCC or ISP's can vary someone's access to the Internet may fall under Article 19 of the International Human Rights laws of the United Nations.
According to a report issued by the UN's Human Rights Council to the General Assembly back on May 16, 2011, Internet access is now a human right, and anyone who interferes with a person's access to the Internet violates that person's human rights, just as if you deprived them of medicine or, in this case, stifles their right to free speech.
According to the report written by Frank La Rue, a special rapporteur to the United Nations: "Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression."
Netflix supports "Net Neutrality"
And Just because Netflix paid Comcast to hook into its system does not mean it agrees with a regulated Internet. In fact, they have sent their displeasure to the FCC.
In a official response to the FCC, Netflix states that a paid prioritized Internet would destroy the Internet as it is today without regulating the actions of companies who want a closed system.
"No rules would be better than rules legalizing discrimination on the Internet," stated Netflix's comments to the FCC.
And Netflix had a warning to the FCC that the fate of the Internet is the agency's responsibility:
The Internet is at a crossroads. Down one road—a road defined by the Commission’s failure to put in place meaningful open Internet rules—is an Internet that looks more like cable TV, one characterized by legalized discrimination, carriage disputes, gamesmanship, and content blackouts which harms consumers. Down another road is a scalable, more affordable, and open Internet built on strong network neutrality rules and a policy of settlement-free interconnection to last mile ISP network.
What is the real issue here?
With the UN declaring Internet access a human right, and the FCC trying to dance around the UN and the demands of big business ISP's, the real issue is who should have control over the data going through a business' network to you.
Comcast felt that Netflix was abusing their network and equipment to provide a service to the video-streaming customers, and Comcast basically said that if you want our subscribers to watch your content without interruptions, then you must pay to stream content through their equipment, which is part of the Open Connect service that must be supplied.
This is sets a precedent where Time Warner, Verizon and AT&T have all refused to allow Netflix to hook up to their networks unless they pay for doing so. This is the first step towards providing different class of customers two different Internet speeds, and discriminating based on who the content provider is, and its customer.
By not allowing Netflix access to the Internet's Open Connect service, other ISP's are telling their own customers that their Netflix experience may be less enjoyable. The Open Connect service allows traffic to pass through an ISP's network, as the Internet is a peerless network.
An example of a peer-to-peer network would be Netflix, where you connect directly to them to download and watch a movie. Or Napster, who started it all, was a P2P network.
Another issue in allowing access to an ISP's Open Connect service is ISPs like Verizon FIOS, Time Warner, and Comcast also offer movies on demand, both free and pay-for, and in a way are competing with Netflix for the same customer base. The ISP's customers.
Is it right for an ISP to decide who goes through the Open Connect and who does not? No. And to allow an ISP to regulate it, control it, and charge for it will make the Internet nothing more than another service offered by a Cable TV company. And they will make all the decisions for you as to what sites you can visit, what outsides services are available.
It is not right to give a business control over something that shouldn't be controlled. Even the UN considers that a violation of one's Human Rights, and can be prosecuted by the world court (UN's International Court of Justice).
We've been here before
You might think that because it is the Internet, we are getting into uncharted territory as each ISP is looking at the Netflix-Comcast model, and wondering how they can profit from the same and even other services that may directly affect an individual user's access to the Internet.
However, we have been here before. The Internet is, like a phone company, another means to communicate. And we are heading into the same direction that caused the 1986 divestitures of the telephone companies.
As in that case, the larger phone companies, who owned the wire and switching equipment, refused to let smaller phone companies to access the same equipment. The internet is the same way. ISP's have hooked into the pipeline of the Internet, and are required to provide an Open Connect service to allow data to pass through. Now the ISP wants to control this flow, slowing it down or stopping the data from passing through.
Not to long ago the Internet belonged to everyone. It was universities and research centers who owned the pipeline and equipment that made the Internet work.
Now, corporate businesses are claiming stakes in it and are looking for ways to increase their profits, which means you and I will either have to pay more for access to information, or accept less services and slower access speeds.
And most people have no choice in who provides Internet access, as your local government negotiates with one, maybe two companies to provide TV cable and Internet services.
That's what happened to me. I moved 16 miles down the road, and Verizon is not in Venice, FL. But Comcast is. There already is a monopoly forming around Internet services.
If the FCC does not stay on top of this issue, we will experience the same issues when the phone company was the only provider of telephone service. We will be at their mercy on rates, services, and who we can use as content providers.
The sad thing is that the Internet, back in the 1960's, was set up with the purpose of free exchange of information to everyone on the network, regardless of who owned the data, or whose equipment the data went through, or how you connected to the Net.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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