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Just over a week from now, the FCC will vote on a proposal put forth by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that would dramatically change the way the Internet is regulated and give ISP’s control over what content its users see and potentially charge more for certain content. Better known as Net Neutrality, the debate has sparked a firestorm pitting Internet companies against telecom giants. It’s heady, somewhat complicated stuff, but it will have great impact over the future of the Internet. Free speech will face off against commercial interests in some intriguing ways.
Just like our roads, tunnels and bridges are the basic infrastructure connecting our country, the Internet, called the information superhighway for a reason, can also be considered infrastructure.
To continue this analogy, when stuck in traffic you’ll pick the route that gets you to your destination the fastest.
Now, imagine there’s a toll to take that faster lane or route. If it’s a relatively nominal fee, you’ll pay it. As the fee increases, you might consider the pros and cons of sitting in a little bit of traffic and suffering through slower speeds to avoid the charge. Likewise, we move to the fastest lane when possible on the Internet – slow dial-up was replaced by DSL and cable, T1s and so on. Each came at a cost, but the ability to access the information we looked for, no matter the source, always jumped up to the same new speed. As more information becomes available, we crave it. It’s in our nature to learn and to seek the most efficient way to gain knowledge.
That is the crux of the Net Neutrality issue. Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits Internet service providers from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites. It somewhat levels the playing field between startups and established companies hoping to deliver their content to you, the audience, because no matter the source, there is not an added cost – either time or money – to get to the content you want.
Restricting and narrowing access or providing preferential treatment to certain types of information limits our ability to learn and adds unnecessary roadblocks for small Internet companies to get attention for their new sites. It also adds expenses for consumers and businesses and turns the information superhighway into a toll road.
Though those tolls may be nominal at first, putting the decision-making power in the hands of large corporations that ultimately control the speed means those tolls can go up at any time with minimal notice.
That’s not to say the companies building our Internet infrastructure should give it away for free. They invest company resources to create the access and deserve to profit. But is this proposed change to Net Neutrality being made to benefit the user with better infrastructure or to feed a need for an ever-increasing bottom line?
The FCC is pushing along this decision too quickly without the proper review and involvement by the officials we’ve elected to represent us on such issues. New York Attorney General Eric Schneidermann proposed recently a moratorium on the vote to allow more time for discussion of the issues. There have been many OpEds discussing the topic from both sides. Here are just a few if you’d like to go deeper:
The FCC is still accepting public comment on the issue from individuals and companies. If you’d like to contribute, there are many routes you can take. Here’s one. If you have questions about how this might impact your business let us know, we’d be glad to sit down with you and discuss.
Jordan Fischler is managing director and head of consumer technology at Allison+Partners.