Music: The loss of neutrality
Free Press Music Columnist
Something monumental happened this week, and unless you pay attention to the tech news, you may not have even heard about it.
On Jan. 14, a federal appeals court struck down parts of the Open Internet rules established by the Federal Communications Commission — specifically the portion which dictated that Internet carriers had to maintain so-called “network neutrality” in managing the Internet traffic which whizzes over their networks.
“Net neutrality” has been an operating principle of the Internet since it was created, and it is believed by virtually all Internet experts (except those getting paychecks from the net carriers the rule has governed — funny, that) to be an essential factor in the massive wave of technological innovation which has transformed our world since people started surfing the worldwide Web.
So don’t be embarrassed if you’re one of the many folks who are right now asking: “What the heck is net neutrality, anyway?” It’s one of those terms you see bandied about a great deal without much in the way of definition.
In a nutshell: Net neutrality is the principle which says Internet carriers have to treat all Internet traffic the same. Whether a signal originates from the White House, the Disney corporation or your Aunt Phyllis, a network like Verizon or Comcast has to give it the same priority, the same access, the same value.
This principle has been tested many times over the past couple decades by carriers who didn’t think it was fair that they be forced to help companies with whom they had, shall we say, non-contiguous agenda. Almost a decade ago, the government came down on a telephone company called Madison River Communications for blocking its customers who were using the Internet to place phone calls via software like Skype.
Now, minus a Supreme Court appeal or an act by Congress, that rule has been thrown out. And with it goes the Internet we have come to know.
So how will this effect you? The answer is in any number of ways.
Are you a small business who has a great idea for how to use the Internet? You’re probably hosed.
Are you a film lover who regularly streams movies from Netflix? Be prepared, because unless your Internet provider or telephone company has cut a deal with Netflix, that service may now be seriously undermined by carriers throttling Netflix’s bandwidth. (And it’s not just Netflix; it could be any streaming company.)
Do you get your Internet from a cable provider? Don’t be surprised if they now make it harder for you to watch television on the Internet. This ruling gives them that right.
Expect to take a punch in the pocket book as well. With diminished competition (which is the expected outcome of the loss of net neutrality) comes increased prices. A lot of players emerge as losers, thanks to one judge’s decision last Tuesday. But it’s small businesses, start-ups and the consumer who will end up taking the brunt of the fall-out.
Welcome to the Un-Neutral Zone.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog. He also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog: http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog. You may find him on Facebook as well.
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