Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality

Imagine if you had to pay more for the electricity that went to your blender rather than your refrigerator. Sounds crazy right? Electricity is a utility. You pay for the amount you use per month, no matter what devices or appliances consume it. The electric company doesn’t care how you use it, just that you pay when your bill is due.

Internet bandwidth should work the same way. You pay for a certain amount of internet bandwidth in a month and you do with it what you choose; whether that’s streaming video, downloading music, checking email or shopping online. What you do with that internet access shouldn’t matter.

But there’s a problem. The companies that provide internet access to 99% of America also sells you Cable TV, and if you live in 1995, a home phone line. For years now, internet access has been the add-on to your cable and phone bill. Today, many people, especially millennials and younger, only want and need internet. They stream their entertainment from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and iTunes. The don’t use a home phone anymore, they text, snapchat, or if necessary FaceTime. Paying for a cable box and landline has become unnecessary.

So if those who provide us cable, phone and internet can only sell us 1 out of those 3, they’re going to lose money. And their answer to this problem is selfish: charge companies and users more for certain internet services, like Netflix. Depending on whether you are trying to watch a YouTube video or download a family member’s photo, the cable company can choose to prioritize or throttle (slow down) your internet connection at will.

This is already happening. Netflix has signed an agreement with Comcast, one of the Nation’s largest cable providers, where it will pay Comcast a certain amount of money to have its content (Netflix streaming) prioritized to Comcast customers. Meanwhile you, the consumer, is already paying Netflix for their content and Comcast for its internet access. But Comcast wants to double-dip.

You may think this doesn’t affect you, but consider how many choices you have in internet providers. Wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T mobile data doesn’t count as you’ll blow past their data caps streaming content online. If you’re lucky, you may have two choices. Where I live in Central Florida, some areas can choose Verizon FiOS or Bright House Cable internet. (Verizon DSL is available in some locations also but the data speeds are not fast enough to stream content to your TV).

If you’re like me, you have exactly one choice for high speed internet. If the company that provides my internet decides to start giving priority to something else beside Netflix, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t switch internet providers (there are no other options) and unless Netflix wants to pay every cable provider to prioritize their content, I’m up a creek. My internet provider could throttle all content from Netflix where it’s too slow to watch without buffering (and who doesn’t love buffering?)

The four largest telecommunications providers in America, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable are urging the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to allow them to prioritize content. To be clear: This is not what you want.

Internet access should be treated like a utility; like water and electricity. The providers of internet should have no say in what content gets faster bandwidth. This is the crux of Net Neutrality.

Currently, the FCC and its Chairman Tom Wheeler are in talks to make new laws that will govern the future of what cable and internet providers are allowed to do. Again, this may seem afar off, but it will affect all internet users in the coming years. There is certainly no competition on the horizon for telecommunication companies. They own the copper wire under our streets providing internet to our homes, and efforts like Google Fiber are a long way off from being available nationwide.

Most likely, the one or two cable companies that are available in your area now will be the only ones available in the next 5-10 years. Let’s be sure they’re kept in check and keep the internet free and open. So what can you do about all this? Call or email Tom Wheeler, the Chairman of the FCC and tell him what you think. Let him know that the internet is a utility, where there should be no “slow” or “fast” lanes for content. For your convenience, his contact info is below:

Tom Wheeler

Email: tom.wheeler@fcc.gov

Call: 1-800-225-5322 Press 1 then 5