Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Net Neutrality and Academia

There's no ifs-ans-or butts about it, Net Neutrality is a huge issue that changes weekly.  For my English 2 class, I wrote this paper as the first of two major Research Papers due over the Semester.  Honestly, it was probably the most fun research paper I've ever done.

Why?  Mainly because I didn't honestly know that much about Net Neutrality and I've found that most people don't.  Over the course of the research, I found many amazing websites that broke it down in amazing ways.  I found writing this paper the most informative thing I've ever done about any form of issue.  I hope you enjoy it!

Net Neutrality is something that has been in the news far too frequently in recent weeks, months, and years.  It seems the issue will not go away, even though poll after poll show most citizens of the U.S. want Net Neutrality.  Without much thought on the subject, having seen some news broadcasts, I knew exactly where I stood.  I was firmly on the side of Net Neutrality.  But then something happened….

While eating in ‘The Caf,’ as students at NSU affectionately call the on campus cafeteria, there was an event going on, and there were far more people on campus than usual.  It was honestly a madhouse.  It was hard to move around, it was hard to find a seat, but most of all, I could not get on the internet.  There were so many people trying to connect, that it was apparent that the Wi-Fi server was overloaded.  Overall, it was a minor issue, but I overheard someone say, “If we didn’t have Net Neutrality, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Overall, the NSU campus is very well equipped for its students to get internet access.  There are almost always open computers in the Library and every building on campus seems equipped with great Wi-Fi servers.  With the exception of large events in the University Center, the Internet is easily accessed.  Yet, walking through the Library, after that day, I could not help but notice how many people use the library computers to play games.

Netflix accounts for 35 percent of the internet traffic in North America (Williams).  That is a huge number when you think about the vastness of the entire internet.  Of course, streaming full HD video online would take up quite a bit of space, but what effect does that have on the overall speed of internet for the average user?  What effect would it have if a high percentage of people on campus decided to watch some Netflix all at once, to the campus at large?

This is precisely the ‘valid’ part of the argument made by most Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  Netflix could pay a certain fee and the ISPs would allow Netflix to stream faster into your home.  Using the fees collected, ISPs would then be able to use the capital to upgrade the lines so that the rest of the Internet was not affected.  In all honesty, it sounds like a great idea.

The problem is ISPs would have the power to charge Netflix a fee just to stay at its current speed.  If they refused to pay it, Netflix would then be slowed down and be unusable for the average user, which could easily shut down the company.  If Netflix did pay it, then the company might have to raise its own fees, which might push away its own customers.

Senator Al Franken made a similar case in his speech that turned the Net Neutrality issue into an issue of Free Speech:
Before YouTube, there was Google TV. Google TV wasn’t that great, so some guys started YouTube over a pizzeria in San Mateo, California. YouTube was better than Google TV, and because both traveled at the same speed to the viewer, people were able to make a choice between the two.  YouTube won out, and Google ended up buying YouTube for a lot of money, and everyone has benefited. Now, Net neutrality is under threat as it never has been. (Franken)

The fight over Net Neutrality is almost as insane as the conjectured arguments people come up with.  On June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Communications Act of 1934.  It created the FCC to regulate telecommunication utilities, such as phone lines and cable companies (Federal Communications Act). Sixty-two years later, Congress overhauled the Act with the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  Somewhere, under all the political and technical jargon contained within these sets of laws, was the term ‘utilities.’  Yet nowhere did it label the Internet one (Federal Communications Commision).

Because of this, the FCC could not truly regulate ISPs, which were mainly controlled by the telephone companies, which used the government regulated telephone lines to bring the Internet to people’s home.  The cable companies realized they could bring in the internet faster, and they did.  So then a company wanted to bring Internet to the masses and use the cable lines, but they could not do so, because under the FCC rules, the cable lines belonged to the cable companies, thus making them private property, not public.  In 2002 the FCC made this decision to treat DSL internet access (what the telephone companies use) and cable internet access different which truly sparked the battle.  Just a handful of months later Law Professor Time Wu coined the term “Net Neutrality” in a law review article (A Timeline of Net Neutrality).

The FCC decision went all the way to the supreme court in 2005, and after that, a clear line was dawn in the sand when AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre said, “Anybody who expects to use pipes for free is nuts!”  By saying that line he was stating the fact that ISPs want money from every website who want to reach their customers through said ISPs.  Then companies started to really overstep Net Neutrality in a big way (A Timeline of Net Neutrality).

In 2007 Comcast blocked BitTorrent from its servers.  Though they denied it, it obviously happened and the legal battle began.  Complaints were filed with the FCC and the FCC ordered Comcast to stop.  Comcast appealed the decision and the D.C. Circuit court rejected the FCC’s use of part of the Telecommunications Acts to regulate Comcast.  Then, in 2011, the FCC issued the Open Internet Order, which was promptly challenged by Verizon.  In January of 2014 the D.C. Circuit court overturned the order in favor of Verizon (A Timeline of Net Neutrality).

Finally, the FCC caved.  On May 13, 2014, the FCC released a proposal that would have allowed for fast and slow lanes through ISPs.  Two months later the FCC received 1.1 Million comments, with less than 1% opposed to Net Neutrality.  With Obama weighing in on the issue, supporting the Open Internet/Net Neutrality way of thinking, along with another 3.7 Million comments crashing the FCC servers, the FCC passed rules (A Timeline of Net Neutrality).  As of February of 2015, all ISPs, both wired and wireless, are classified as ‘utilities’ (Chappell).

Honestly, this battle is far from over, but the intricacies of it are astounding.  From Free Speech to politics, this issue has everyone talking.  Any politician that comes out against Net Neutrality promptly has an article listing the campaign contributions from many ISPs, thus undermining their integrity.

Why is this such a hotbed issue though?  Simply because of one thing:  When compared to other parts of the world, internet in the U.S. is slow and expensive.  The big companies that control the ISPs also control cable and telephone lines that are in direct competition with some of the services you can easily get with an internet connection.  Therefore, they have no want to invest money into their ISP divisions to make our internet better.  They, of course, say that without Net Neutrality there would be more competition, which would drive prices down and advance technology forward.

There is no way to look at this issue without contemplating corporate greed as people hold back progress in order to make sure the big wigs continue to profit off everyone they can.  The Internet is an open source of amazing information.  To sit inside the John Vaughan Library and watch students read articles related to any topic then want to research, from all over the world, should fill any academic with some sense of pride to live in such an age.  If ISPs had control over the speed of things, there is an honest fear that videos used in class could be slowed down because of the website they are associated with.  Learning, in and of itself, could take a huge step backwards.  Libraries could be completely hamstrung, as articles online would cease to be available unless the college paid extra access to make sure they could be piped through.

Net Neutrality truly does simply boil down to freedom.  The freedom to watch Netflix, be it on a tablet using Wi-Fi in a dorm, or on a computer in the library, exists and will hopefully continue to exist.  Without that freedom many of the things we take for granted about the Internet would drastically change.  The battle for Net Neutrality will go ever onward, so do not take internet freedoms lightly.

As of a couple of years ago, Susan Crawford reported for Wired, that “Approximately 19 million Americans can’t subscribe to high-speed internet access because they live in areas that private companies believe are too expensive to serve. Internet access is still very expensive compared to the rest of the developed world – a third of Americans don’t or can’t subscribe.”  She goes on to state her embarrassment at the current state of the high-speed internet access and what it could be, considering how innovative our nation is.

Our entire culture seems to be based around internet access these days, internet memes are referenced in everyday life.  What will it mean for our culture if we cannot advance our internet and give access to it as freely as we did the radio and television?  Verizon and AT&T have refused subsidies from the FCC to help expand the internet to more rural areas because they are worried about the regulations that come with the money, and they are at the front of the fight against Net Neutrality (Crawford).

Works Cited
  • "A Timeline of Net Neutrality." n.d. Web. 22 March 2015.
  • Ammori, Marvin. "The Case for Net Neutrality." Foreign Affairs Jul/Aug 2014: 62-73. Article.
  • Brodkin, Jon. "FCC Votes for net neutrality, a ban on paid fast lanes, and Title II." 26 February 2015. Ars Technica. Web. 7 March 2015.
  • —. "Republicans' "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out net neutrality." 5 March 2015. Ars Technica. Web. 7 March 2015.
  • Chappell, Bill. "FCC Approves Net Neutrality Rules for 'Open Internet'." 26 February 2015. NPR. Web. 26 February 2015.
  • Cook, Vickie S. "Net Neutrality: What Is It and Why Should Educators Care?" Delta Kappa Gamma Bulleton Summer 2014: 46-49. Article.
  • Crawford, Susan. "It's Time to Fix the Pitifully Slow, Expensive Internet Access in the U.S." 13 December 2012. Wired. Web. 22 March 2015.
  • Federal Communications Act. 73rd United States Congress. 19 June 1934. Act.
  • Federal Communications Commision. "Telecommunications Act of 1996." 31 May 2011. Federal Communications Commison. Web. 27 February 2015.
  • Franken, Al. "Net Neutrality: The Free Speech Issue of Our Time." 7 May 2014. Speech.
  • Hendrickson, Mark. "The Sad Reality of Net Neutrality." 27 February 2015. Forbes. Web. 27 February 2015.
  • In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet Broadband Industries Practices. No. FCC 10-201. Federal Communications Commission. 21 December 2010. Report and Order.
  • Macri, Giuseppe. "Verizon's Mocking Response to the FCC's Net Neutrality Vote is Perfect." 26 February 2015. The Daily Caller. Web. 28 February 2015.
  • Mike Snider, Roger Yu, and Emily Brown. "What is Net Neutrality and What Does it Mean for Me?" 27 February 2015. USA Today. Web. 27 February 2015.
  • Miniwatts Marketing Group. "Internet Usage Statistics." 30 June 2014. Internet World Stats. Web. 22 March 2015.
  • Nagesh, Gautham and Amol Sharma. "Court Tosses Rules of Road for Internet." 14 January 2014. The Wall Street Journal. Web. 7 March 2015.
  • National Cable & Telecommunications Association, et al., Petitioners v. Brand X Internet Services et al. and Federal Communications Commission and United States, Petitioners v. Brand X Ineternet Services et al. No. 04-277 and 04-281. Supreme Court of the United States. 27 June 2005. Case.
  • White, Sara. "Net Neutrality and Libraries: Conflicts of Access." Serials Librarian September 2014: 151-157. Article.
  • Williams, Owen. "Netflix now accounts for 35 percent of overall US internet traffic." 21 November 2014. TNW. Web. 25 March 2015.

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