It’s impossible to imagine life without the internet. The World Wide Web is ingrained into our lives now perhaps more than any other media – even more so than television (2007 was the first year that parity was established between internet usage and television usage, and since then internet usage has completely taken over). If you’ve been paying attention, you will have noticed how commercialization has made huge strides online in the past couple of years. You can barely open any website now without a viral advertising video popping up to play.
There is a threat that this commercialization of the net is about to take one giant leap forward. Ever since the first computers were connected together, the internet has been a place of neutrality. If you search for content, what you find is largely down to how you perform your search, and how well websites are designed in regards to SEO (search engine optimization). When links appear in your browser, it’s largely a free-for-all as to how they get there. And, the speed at which content arrives in your browser is the same for all websites. This is known as “net neutrality.”
This casual attitude towards traffic neutralization may be about to change. Commercial enterprises are seeking to sign deals with broadband service providers so that their content is pushed to the head of the queue when you search for a product or service they provide, and also that certain sites you use “perform better.” For example, a video streaming provider such as Netflix could sign a deal with Comcast that sees their streams given priority over rival streams. This means that if you are a Comcast subscriber you’d obtain better quality video from Netflix than you would with other streaming sites.
In the United States, broadband providers are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, and as such must treat all internet traffic equally. However, in April 2014 the Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, announced proposals that would allow broadband providers to undertake internet traffic management – so long as it is done in a commercially reasonable manner. If passed, this proposal would effectively curtail the neutrality of the net.
Naturally, digital content providers and internet commentators were up in arms concerning these new proposals. Access to the internet is largely seen as a public utility, and most commentators feel it should remain that way. If the FCC’s new proposals come into place, it would be like the company that provides the infrastructure that brings power into our homes allowing some energy suppliers to provide a more powerful service than others via that infrastructure.
The FCC has already backed down from its initial comments, saying that it would not allow internet providers to thwart the speeds of some websites, but would allow the speeds of some sites to be boosted if they pay broadband providers to do so. However, many technology experts have claimed that this is impossible.
As commercialism has crept into nearly every other aspect of our lives, it’s surely only a matter of time before genuine net neutrality becomes as much an internet anachronism as Netscape, AOL, and MySpace. My advice is to enjoy your currently neutral internet as much as you can!