Net Neutrality Threatened: The End of the Open Internet?

Team Teridion

Our engineers have developed technology to make the Internet work faster and better for SaaS providers and their consumers, so of course we care deeply about policy that affects the Internet, and we want to contribute to constructive discussions about policy.

In September we co-hosted an exclusive Internet Influencers gathering for our customers along with NS1, and we invited outgoing FCC Chief Technology Officer Scott Jordan to address the group on the important topic of net neutrality. Professor Jordan teaches computer science and electrical engineering at UC Irvine, where he is head of the Network Performance Group. The discussion was lively, and it’s no wonder.

In 2015, the FCC adopted rules that placed the Internet in the realm of the common carrier. The simplest message was that the ability to transmit and receive information wouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder. Everyone had access on more or less the same terms.

Net neutrality is, to put it mildly, under fire. The current FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is an attorney who once worked for Verizon. His leanings were no secret, and he’s only one among many recently appointed regulators who had previously been staunch opponents of the very agencies they now head.

The 2015 FCC decision was a victory in the battle for net neutrality, granting consumers various protections, including data-collection transparency and privacy. Carriers, including the giant providers like Comcast and AT&T, could not favor one content provider over another, and they could certainly not allocate bandwidth on the basis of who was willing to pay the most for it. In a sense, the rules ensure that the net is neutral, that carriers don’t get to pick and choose the content that’s most readily available to consumers.

As you read this, data is soaring between servers. Every Netflix movie, Facebook refresh or blog post is delivered through this complex digital communication. In essence, our digital freedom is due to net neutrality.

Scott Jordan points out that the law has not kept up with the technology. And now a small collection of influential leaders see an opportunity to increase control and profits.

Some ISPs argue that the current regulations stifle investment and growth. They also make the rather resentful point that content providers like Amazon, Apple and Netflix are free to build content delivery networks that rivals can’t hope to match, all without being subject to government regulation that would give competitors more of a fighting chance.

Net neutrality advocates argue that the Internet has become an essential public utility, that more and more people turn to it as their primary news source and that privileging some content over others means that the deepest pockets control the flow of information.

Is it possible to sympathize with the big carriers, even a little, despite their unpopularity with consumers across the board? Perhaps it is, when you consider that Netflix alone accounts for more than a third of Internet traffic in North America, and that its share is declining largely because Amazon’s own streaming service is taking bandwidth of its own. To the carriers, those services are getting a free ride while constituting a huge burden.

But the dangers of abandoning net neutrality are quite real. There is true power inherent in controlling the flow of information. The problem today is that it seems that the debate can only be resolved on an all-or-nothing basis.

President Trump’s FCC proposes revoking this protection. Without resistance, this post could be blocked for speaking out and calling for action. Even if you’re politically unaffiliated, now’s not the time to sit back and observe. For without freedom of communication and unrestricted access, society is destined to revert to a time when factual knowledge was a privilege and falsified understandings were commonplace. To some extent we have already seen this occur and revoking this protection will make things worse.

Be that as it may, however, the net-neutrality sides have been drawn along strictly party lines. To an outside observer, to someone who would be willing to listen with something of an open mind to both sides of the argument, it’s far from clear how this fight became one more highly partisan battle in which your stance depended on whether you had an “R” or a “D” next to your name on the ballot. What started as a conversation about market power, consumer rights and protection has blossomed into a partisan dialogue.

While this debate plays out, Teridion’s machine learning continues to route traffic around congestion caused by battles between ISPs, working hard to make sure applications perform and information flows quickly over the Internet like it should.

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