Some of our clients have been asking about “net neutrality” lately. This topic is being mentioned more and more in the media because the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to make a ruling sometime in February of this year.
First of all, I am not arguing either side of this issue here in this post. I am just trying to explain it. The basic concept of net neutrality is that all Internet data traffic is treated equally. Whether the data is coming from a web site, Netflix, VoIP phones, or whatever, the Internet carriers pass it along to you in exactly the same way. So, what‘s the big deal? Why would the FCC get involved?
Most of the debate centers on speed. Should an ISP such as Comcast be allowed to create fast lanes for some companies and not others? And should they be allowed to charge web properties like Facebook and Google to get special treatment? And if they do, does this prevent small Internet startups from having a level playing field?
The concept of fast lanes and slow lanes inside the datacenters of the Internet is really a moot point. Long ago, the major Internet sites began to share facilities and operate equipment inside of each other’s networks. For example, Google has servers inside of Comcast data centers in addition to their own. This is called “peering”. By having content spread around the Internet inside of the ISP’s data centers, Google and Facebook can deliver searches and posts much more quickly. This method is called a “content delivery network” or CDN.
Sorry if I got too detailed there but my point is that speed at the core of the Internet is just fine. The competitive nature of the major Internet properties incentivizes these companies to work it out. The real argument about net neutrality happens in the “last mile” connection to your house or office.
Proponents of a completely open Internet (another way of saying net neutrality) argue that the ISPs will start charging extra for consumers to access high bandwidth sites such as Youtube and Netflix. Or they could possibly block a service like Google Maps and charge for their own.
Also, many people are worried that since the number of ISPs has dramatically dropped over recent years, competition is dwindling and could lead to higher prices for consumers. This is all reminiscent of the arguments back in the day about the telephone industry—how much should the government regulate the wires to promote innovation and competition?