Imagine if your internet speed and website access were dictated by how much you paid your internet provider. Sound ridiculous? It’s not.
Companies including Verizon and Google are actively trying to make this a reality.
In the United States, there is a de facto tradition of network neutrality — or net neutrality. This means that telecommunication companies generally offer the same rate to everyone, regardless of what sites they frequent or how much bandwidth they consume. However, there are no legal restrictions if companies decide to change this. For example, some internet service providers (ISPs) block certain ports to prevent consumers from hosting servers without a business account.
On August 9, Google and Verizon released a joint policy proposal detailing what they believe would allow the internet to remain public while giving network operators the freedom to manage their networks. Keeping two goals in mind — that users should be given the choice of what content, applications and devices to use, and that investment and innovation to support underlying broadband infrastructure should be encouraged — Google and Verizon put together seven main points.
First, the ISPs would not have the right to block any consumer traffic as long as the consumer is sharing legal content.
Second, ISPs would be forbidden to prioritize traffic or discriminate against any type of content in any way that would harm users or the competition.
Third, ISPs must be completely transparent about the services included in their plans, the capabilities of their services, and how its network is managed.
Fourth, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent U.S. government agency that is directly responsible to Congress, would have the authority to enforce the outlined policies on a case-by-case basis and fine a company in violation up to $2 million.
Fifth, ISPs would be allowed to offer differentiated online services (for example, Verizon’s FIOS TV) as long as they do not interfere with traditional internet service and access.
Sixth, with the exception of transparency, the policy would not apply to mobile and wireless networks.
Seventh, the funding provided by the Federal Universal Service Fund should be used to build better networks and services.
Now, before you panic, this is just a proposal. The FCC would have to adopt Verizon’s and Google’s plan as law.
If you haven’t been following the net neutrality drama for the past several years, you may be asking yourself why this contract between Verizon and Google is such a big deal. In the present, it may seem insignificant but, as technology progresses, wireless broadband — used by smart phones, iPads, GPS units, netbooks, and mobile hot spots — will be the defining technology for the next generation of devices.
Verizon and Google are only the latest in a line of net neutrality-related controversies. With no real laws or governing body over the internet, multiple companies in the pursuit of money have tried to make changes to their networks. The FCC, so far helpless, has been forced to fight from the sidelines.