Net Neutrality: What it is and why you should care

In the schoolyard, there’s a bully who lies in wait for his classmates. “Give me your lunch money.” Every day for years this happened, and the classmates were resigned to paying the cash, for the bully and his buddies controlled who got to play on the playground equipment. (Imagine recess without being able to go on the swings, the slide, the basketball court – no fun for anybody!)

One day, the bully decides that you could go down the slide, but while sitting on a foam mat that slowed you down unless you paid him more money. If you wanted to play basketball, your ball would only be half inflated unless you paid him more money.

The schoolyard bully and his buddies = Verizon and Comcast. The playground = the internet.

The Internet was designed, essentially, to allow for near instant connection between people and ideas regardless of the physical distance between them.

[pullquote]How quickly do you want your customers to be able to navigate around your website?

Do you want to compete with enormous international companies for the speed and service for your site?[/pullquote]

Many things in your business and in your life today depend on internet and wireless access. You stream videos, you upload information, you access things in the cloud from different locations and on different devices, you listen to podcasts, you instant message your employees.

You pay for your internet access via a telephone or cable company and with your payment, the expectation has been that you’ll have access to any site you want at the speeds you’re paying for.

Eliminating net neutrality would mean that certain sites owned by individuals or companies who paid for the privilege would load faster and essentially control how people accessed websites as well as the cost to access some sites.

Recently, the quality of Netflix online streaming dropped for Comcast customers. The result was that Netflix agreed to pay more for to bring the quality back up.

What’s at the heart of the issue? Semantics and politics, big business and money. Basically, the internet service started with regulations similar to telephones: “common carrier.” AT&T or any other phone company can’t block a phone call from someone who they don’t like. They have to let the calls go through.

Cable networks are considered “information service,” which means there is less regulation and how they can operate, and when they began offering Internet, the Internet service switched from “common carrier” to “information service” and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn’t get to regulate the broadband companies to ensure fair treatment. Ways that companies can control access involve slowing down service, prioritizing service, and causing congestion along access ports.

Those who control the Internet access to much of the country want to charge more money to certain sites and companies for them to keep the access they’ve previously taken for granted. What was once free will come with a fee, paid to private companies who want to control how you access the Internet.

It’s an ongoing dilemma, and one that you’ll likely continue to see in the news, and as laws and regulations are created or modified, your business may be affected.

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