By: Matthew G. Miller, Gearhart Law
If you’ve been exposed to any media outlet recently, you’ve probably heard the phrase “net neutrality” being tossed around. While there are a number of descriptions available online (including my personal favorite), in short, net neutrality means that all data traveling through the “pipes” of the internet must be treated equally by internet service providers. Now this might seem reasonable to you, especially because it is the current law in the United States as well as in the European Union.
However, despite this seemingly fair system, the American telecommunications lobby is attempting to compel the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) to allow for a two-tiered system. This system would allow for there to be two tiers of “pipes” throughout the internet; one for normal customers and another for customers who pay are capable of paying for the premium lane. Opponents of this system refer to the two-tiered system as providing a slow land and a fast lane while the two-tiered system’s proponents, characterize it as providing a fast lane and a hyperfast lane. Many large companies such as Facebook and Google have spoken out against the implementation of this two-tiered system. In contrast, Apple has been mysteriously quiet as to their opinion on the proposed change.
What’s interesting to note here is that the telecommunications lobby is stating that end-users will not notice any increased cost in their service. This system would call for the owners of websites to pay for the premium channel. Perplexingly, this move is designed to promote competition, although how exactly competition will be promoted is unclear at this time.
That said, I’m sure you’re wondering “but what does this all mean for me?” and the answer, in typical lawyer fashion is that it depends. As a consumer, this implementation of this system would mean that some of your favorite services will run spectacularly well, while others will run at current speeds.
As an entrepreneur, this system means that being able to pay for the fast lane will become a serious consideration when determining your operating expense. You should consider how important speedy access to your website and other internet-based services is, and whether it is appropriate to cut other expenses to be able to afford to compete.
Fortunately, these questions need not be answered today as the proposed regulation is still merely a proposal. However, there are very large players on both sides of the issues, and the battle for an open internet is certainly not going to be a short one.