by Coop Cooper
As I finish watching the third season of the Netflix Instant series “House of Cards”, I can’t help but think how powerful and great the internet has become that it can stream shows and movies instantly from the cloud to your TV, tablet or cell phone. Now that the U.S. Government will begin policing the internet in about six weeks, it begs the question… Is the internet about to be changed for better or for worse?
In case you’re in the dark on this, the Federal Communications Commission, by a 3-2 vote, has approved a regulatory policy that is meant to enforce “that no one – whether government or corporate – should control free open access to the Internet.” The idea is something of a trust-busting strategy to keep service providers from throttling speeds based on different costs scales. Essentially, it is meant to keep the big service companies like Verizon and AT&T from ripping off customers, throttling services or blocking content providers. The FCC has given the status of “public utility” to the internet instead of “private service” as it was before.
It sounds reasonable on paper. Everyone has complaints about what services/speeds are available where and usually there is only one or two choices that tend to gouge its customers. Much like the cable TV business, this has been going on for awhile. However, opponents of this policy change also have a good point…
The internet is great. It works, it is fast and has gotten better year by year, not only at home, but on wireless devices as well. Why mess with a good thing? Why give the government (who isn’t very good at regulation in general), control over its regulation? Why fix what isn’t broken?
There are other concerns as well. Some see this as an unnecessary power grab by the government and that the FCC didn’t release the over 300 pages of the policy to allow for public or open debate. They simply passed it without allowing discussion of any potential concerns.
Additionally, since service providers will likely see an unavoidable dip in profits and power, it could stall improvements to the technology and could slow down innovative progress. Plus there is the even larger issue of limited broadband. Cell phone companies (wireless internet will apparently be subject to slightly different rules) used to generously offer unlimited data to its customers until the service became so choked with usage, it slowed the service down to a crawl. By charging for data and the home service charging for speed, the providers essentially created a traffic light system that would help prevent jams. Apparently data caps on wireless will remain, but no speed gates on wireless or on home/business lines. Some of those traffic lights will be eliminated, so slow speeds and traffic jams could become the norm, especially if the infrastructure isn’t improved quickly enough to meet demands.
The the loudest dissenting voices claim that the government, in the effort to stick it to greedy corporations and try to make access to the internet more fair, may have created a monster. The powers the FCC has given itself can potentially (and illegally) control the flow of information on the net. It can take broadband-hungry services like Netflix and appropriate that broadband where it sees fit. Even worse, in a crisis (or under a less-than-honorable administration), it might be able to control what websites we can access. This is essentially what China does. It blocks their users from services like Facebook and keeps an extremely tight leash on Google in an attempt to control the flow of information and ideas within its population. It is also widely believed that Net Neutrality is the first step towards taxing the internet, which will end up costing the taxpayers along with the consumers.
Those who champion this idea of net neutrality do have a point: It should be open and accessible to everyone and I like the idea of it not being hampered by imposed limits or having to pay a premium for top speeds, but will we lose the speedy, open internet we have been enjoying? Will even the supporters of net neutrality eventually regret their championing of it when their broadband slows to a near standstill and regulations start restricting the sites they can visit? Will Netflix have to start putting “House of Cards” on disk and begin resurrecting their dwindling DVD/mail service? It is difficult to understand the issue, much less its implications. Maybe nothing will change Nobody really knows because the full details have yet to be released. Time will tell.
By the way, if you don’t have Netflix Instant and haven’t seen “House of Cards”, you are missing out. Watching Kevin Spacey chew the scenery as the blasphemous and Machiavellian U.S. President Frank Underwood has been the biggest success story for the service and has won multiple entertainment awards. Here’s to hoping the FCC doesn’t step on Frank Underwood’s toes. As anyone who watches the show knows, that would be a big mistake.