Who should pay for the Internet?
February 12, 2014
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
In mid-January, a federal appeals court stuck down Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibited Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast from restricting access to any legal website or online content. The court said the FCC didn’t have the right to enforce the rules.
The ruling has spotlighted the issue of “net neutrality,” or a free and open Internet. And it may affect some of your favorite web services like Netflix and Hulu, which could get more expensive.
The case, brought by Verizon, centered on FCC rules that barred Internet service providers (ISPs) from charging websites and web services more for high bandwidth. Essentially, the rules meant that all content, no matter the subject or the size, should be equally accessible to consumers.
A lot of ISPs were unhappy with the rules, arguing that services that use high bandwidth like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime should pay more for streaming and access to customers.
The ISPs said the federal rules allowed the providers to make a profit only by providing access to consumers. The ISPs argued that because they provide a service, they should be allowed to decide how to deliver it and how much to charge. They want to create different business models, some might even mean lower costs for consumers.
The ISPs propose a tiered Internet, where content providers like YouTube and Netflix would have to pay for their content to be prioritized and to get to consumers quickly. It would be similar to the cable structure for which many of the ISPs already have regional monopolies. Networks like MTV and CNN have to pay the individual cable companies to get their channels into the homes of the cable customers.
If a company wanted to get a high bandwidth, meaning quicker download and streaming times, it would have to pay the ISP more. So the likes of Netflix and YouTube would likely pay more to prevent loading times from piling up, and costing them customers.
Advocates of net neutrality say that the ruling will make the Internet a pay-to-play model, squeezing out the voices that don’t have financial backers and allowing only ones with money to dominate the Web. A company that wishes to exist online would have to pay ISPs to get bandwidth after already having paid website designers and a hosting service to make sure it’s running 24/7. Major players would be in the Internet’s fast lane while smaller ones would be stuck in the slow lane.
What does this mean for you? Nothing, right now. But if ISPs start charging higher costs to websites for services, those sites will likely pass on those costs to consumers. Fee-based services like Netflix are likely to charge more, and free ones like YouTube could move to a pay model to pay for the higher bandwidth that ensures its content loads quickly.
After the court’s decision, the Web’s major service providers said they did not plan to make any changes. The FCC could appeal the ruling or try to rewrite the rules. Or Congress could pass a set of laws.
What do you think?
Should the Internet be equally accessible to everyone? Do you agree with Internet service providers that it is a free enterprise issue? Should people who use the Internet be the ones to pay, or should the sites hosting content? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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