Neutral net: all data created equal

Jacob Jardel

Jacob Jardel

Jacob Jardel
Assistant Managing Editor

“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver said the topic of net neutrality is boring “even by CSPAN’s standards.”

Numerous YouTubers, talk show hosts and news reporters have opined on the topic.

So, what exactly is net neutrality?

In short, the principle behind net neutrality is that all data is equal and has to be treated as such – from cat videos to Netflix movies to that last research article you need for the paper to make length. In essence, net neutrality is the Internet in its current state, for the most part.

Herein lies the problem: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has endorsed legislation for a two-tiered system of Internet in which Internet service providers (ISP), such as Comcast, can charge companies like Netflix a premium to stream their service faster and more reliably.

It doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that a practice such as this can debilitate the small startup whose data is, theoretically, on an equal playing field as the bigger company’s data. It gets worse when you realize that an ISP could use this tactic to get more money out of a company, bottlenecking the company’s speeds until the ISP gets its payment.

It gets even worse when you realize Comcast and Netflix already went through this struggle earlier in 2014, when Netflix folded to Comcast’s demands in order to see its stream speeds return to status quo.

The rally cries against these practices and for net neutrality come from both activists and corporations. Like Oliver said, it’s as if Lex Luthor went to Superman’s apartment so that he could team up against the guy in Apartment 3B.

In this analogy, regardless of who’s Superman and who’s Luthor, the guy in Apartment 3B is the highly monopolized conglomerate of ISPs.

You see, throughout the nation, there are only a handful of ISPs, such as Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner. While this should mean competition among them that stirs the economy, most of the population has access to two or fewer providers that essentially divvy up regions and avoid encroaching on each other’s territory. This practice eerily models a monopoly.

At last check, the law kind of frowns upon those. The public does, too.

Yet it gets difficult when the only company who has spent more money on lobbying than Comcast is military contractor Northrup Grumman. Plus, Tom Wheeler, former cable interest lobbyist, is now the head of FCC.

In short, Comcast and cable have the government in tow. Meanwhile, the American people pay more for Internet download speeds that compete with Estonia’s.

Tribune News Service

Tribune News Service

If legislation for a two-tiered system comes to pass, the average consumer may not be able to watch “Orange is the New Black” or “House of Cards” on Netflix because Comcast throttles its speeds in favor of, for example, Xfinity.

You could search for an alternative on Google, but those speeds are down. You now have to use some unheard of search engine or, worse, Bing. Even then, ads on those pages are ubiquitous.

But you can browse ad-free on high speeds using Friggle or whatever Comcast’s hypothetical search engine is.

It sounds dystopian, for sure. It may be a bit extreme of an argument. Who knows what companies will do if they have the option to bottleneck speeds? What really matters, though, is not what the companies may or may not do.

What really matters is that all data is equal and should be treated as such.

This principle is the tenet on which many Internet companies were established. Without it, megalithic sites and corporations would squash any chances of a startup – not out of want, but out of the need to keep their data speeds running at the status quo. The only benefits go to ISPs.

So speak up. Talk to your senators and representatives to keep our bandwidths wide. Tell your government you want to be able to binge watch “How I Met Your Mother” while you stay up until 4 a.m. working on a research paper due in mere hours without speeds slowing to a crawl.

Most of all, truly believe that all data is created and should be treated equally. After all, who judges whether one site is more worthy than another?

Let’s not make the answer ISPs.


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