A Net Neutrality Nightmare? / Part II

Open internet advocates worry that if net neutrality rules are not enforced the internet could become a nightmare. Specifically, a nightmare where big companies access special fast lanes on the internet, and start ups and small content creators struggle to be seen with slower loading web sites. A nightmare where an internet provider might block content owned by competitors. But are these fears warranted, or would getting rid of net neutrality be harmless? Critics of Net Neutrality like to point out that current rules have only been enforced recently, and the internet seemed to do just fine. And it’s true! It was only in 2015 that the FCC gained the power to enforce net neutrality rules, but at the same time, it isn’t fair to say net neutrality isn’t an influential part of internet history. In the early days of the internet, net neutrality existed by default. Virtually all internet traffic traveled across phone lines. Phone lines were already subject to regulation called “common carrier rules.” The Foundation of what would become net neutrality, the rules meant that phone companies could not give preferential treatment to any calls that passed through their lines, whether the call originated from small house, or a mansion. They also couldn’t block a call just because it originated on a competitor’s infrastructure. The situation got messier once internet providers started ditching the phones for cable internet lines. Lawmakers decided that this technology would not be subject to common carrier rules. And During the period from the late 90s, and into the new century, the internet continued to thrive. If the internet thrived without net neutrality, where’s the problem? Well net neutrality may not have been law for cable, but it was nonetheless policing the scene. It took many years before the majority of consumers had switched over to new technologies, and by the early 2000s the FCC had adopted a series of guidelines or internet freedoms that represented the ideas of net neutrality. It was murky however, if the FCC had the power to enforce them. And so, during this period an awkward gentleman’s agreement seemed to emerge: The internet service providers were to act in line with net neutrality principles, and in response nobody would try to regulate them. But the gentleman’s agreement was strained. Among other incidents, the FCC was in a dispute over Comcast’s blocking of customers’ file-sharing data. In each case, courts found that the FCC had no enforcement power. When the government attempted to officially adopt net neutrality principles, they were promptly sued. The gentlemen’s agreement officially crumbled. And as video services like Netflix took off, providers began signing contracts to give certain content preferential passage through ISP networks. In 2015, internet providers were reclassified, allowing the government to Enforce net neutrality rules. So, here we are, and today the FCC and its new Chairman, Ajit Pai, are in the process of returning things to the way they were in 2014. Interviewer: Lets us say Comcast created a new TV series, and it just so happened that that competed with a Netflix series very similarly. If these rules go away, how is there not an incredible incentive for Comcast to slow Netflix down, coming in to my house, and make their video, the Comcast video, very robust? Ajit Pai: So under that hypothetical, one of the things that’s important to remember is that it is a hypothetical! Hypothetical or not, history certainly seems to suggest that Internet service providers will be tempted to curb net neutrality if the only roadblock to doing so is a voluntary set of guidelines. It is hard to imagine ISPs would have the audacity to immediately start charging extra to access popular websites, but the incentives are certainly there to do so over time. If there were no consequences for giving your own content better streaming than the competition, why wouldn’t you? The end of net neutrality might not guarantee a dark and stormy nightmare, but there are certainly storm clouds on the horizon. If you enjoyed this video like, comment, subscribe, and check out our other videos. Thanks for watching!

Danny Hutson

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