Don’t fix net neutrality. It isn’t broken.

The Federal Communications Commission voted a partisan 3-2 on network neutrality on December 21st, in what proponents consider an upset. The rules, a flimsy copy of rules written by Verizon and Google in October, are worse than nothing. So they say.

Net neutrality is a hot topic, but only [it seems] for people who understand what net neutrality is and what it means for the future of free speech and online innovation. The rules, which the FCC hopes to enforce and Republicans vow to block in their first 2011 session, are a boon to the telecommunications industry.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is what internet users are accustomed to. Simply put, it means that providers must give all network traffic the same priority. It means that we have equal access to Google and Bing, YouTube and Hulu, Fox News and CBS. They cannot collect fees from a company, for example, in order to grant that company network priority over others. In essence, showing bias towards one website or application can mean a certain level of control over what you, the consumer, have access to. Without net neutrality, providers could choke bandwidth or even block certain websites from being accessed by you.

Why the FCC’s net neutrality rules are worse than nothing

The FCC could reclassify internet providers as telecommunications companies, and ISP’s would be subject to the same rules and regulations that phone and cable companies are. Reclassification would also grant the FCC regulatory oversight. That could be the end of it. The FCC, however, chose to take the hard road and adopt separate rules and regulations for the internet; rules and regulations which may or may not hold up to inspection by the Supreme Court.

The “rules” [as proposed by Verizon and Google and approved by the FCC] prevent fixed-line broadband providers [e.g. DSL, cable] from blocking access to websites and/or applications but wireless providers would be able to put limits on access. Under the new “rules”, wireless providers like AT&T would be able to block applications that compete with their own products and services.

This is exactly what happened late last year with Comcast and the popular video service, Netflix. Netflix is direct competition to Comcast’s on-demand video service, so Comcast gave Netflix an ultimatum: pay us a fee or we block your service from being accessed by Comcast customers. Netflix paid, though under duress. Unfortunately, we can’t expect companies like Netflix to eat the cost of the imposed fees and that cost is passed on to Netflix customers. One company’s greed is another man’s cost.

We should be outraged at such underhanded stifling of competition, and consumers should be outraged that these costs are passed on to them. But at the heart of this issue is freedom. We should all be outraged that certain telecommunications companies seek to undermine freedom of speech, internet freedom, and innovation. Internet giants like Google should remember how they came to be the largest and most popular search engine around the world [net neutrality] and once again take the lead; this time in fighting to keep our free and open internet just the way it is.

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