Friday, October 23, 2009

Obama, Net Neutrality Definition, and The FCC...WTF?!

Definition of Net Neutrality

The first thing to understand is that the vote which occurred this week was simply a vote to begin talks on net neutrality. So the debate begins.

Republicans haven’t really formed any type of opinion on this matter. Some have introduced a competing bill, like McCain’s proposed legislation that would prevent the FCC from regulating traffic on the internet. Democrats, largely, are all for it the new laws. I’ll opine on this in a moment. First, what is net neutrality?

Currently your ISP, internet service provider (like Comcast, Wild Blue, NetZero, etc) regulates the amount of bandwidth (juice) is able to flow through your internet connection. The amount bandwidth is what determines your ability to consume online content such as stream video from YouTube or Hulu or even speak on the “phone” over a VoIP connection such as Vonage or the Magic Jack. The FCC does not get involved right now in regulating how much juice is able to flow through the pipes.

Internet information that flows through your connection is segmented into what are called packets. These packets all have different identifiers that tell the ISP what kind of traffic they are. This allows companies like AT&T to slow down traffic (or packets) flowing through your internet connection so they can allocate more bandwidth (horsepower) to their own VoIP service which makes AT&T’s service more reliable than it’s competitors’ services being accessed through the same ISP. So, if I have Vonage, but get internet through AT&T, I may not get as reliable service if I had just subscribed to AT&T’s VoIP service. So already you can see the anti-competitive implications developing.

But, on the other hand say I’m a Comcast customer and I’m downloading huge HD movies from a peer to peer network like The Pirate Bay or some other torrent site. Currently Comcast has the ability to slow me down to the point that it’s not worth the wait to download Tilight New Moon since it’s going to take me 2 weeks to do it! So there are arguments both ways. But the bottom line is that the FCC Net Neutrality laws will seek to take that power away from the ISP’s and say “nope, you gotta open up the flood gates and let the internet juices flow!” No more discrimination based on traffic types!

Obama has stated his support in the FCC Net Neutrality laws. Some Republicans have said it is the Fairness Doctrine applied to the internet. So what do you need to know about it? What will it mean to you?
If Net Neutrality is passed eventually you will soon be able to download big files on the internet without limitations imposed currently by the ISP’s. The road will be paved to allow HD video streaming from the internet. YouTube videos could be hosted in full 1080P HD. Services like Vonage and Magic Jack will become more popular as the call quality will increase drastically. Illegal internet activity will spike because the ISP’s will not have the ability to block it. Comcast once tried to slow down peer to peer downloading traffic (notorious for illegal copy write infringement). They abandoned that activity for fear of falling under scrutiny of future net neutrality laws. Costs for internet service will likely increase as well because there will be an added cost to ISP’s in pure infrastructure. They will need to beef up their systems to allow full throttle internet access across the board to all subscribers.

Also this summer, Google announced its plans to develop a micro-payment system for internet consumption. There is a group of people and companies which includes Google to push for transitioning internet service from a subscription base to a utility based service. Basically every household connecting to the internet would be connected at the full speed available and they would receive a monthly bill based on usage. This way the people consuming bandwidth would pay for their share. This would put an end to the cable internet providers promotion of low monthly fees for 6 months after which they “jack the price up.”

The WTF Report believes that we are now living in an environment where open internet access to all is vital to stimulate competition among the big companies. My current position is in support of the FCC Net Neutrality laws which Obama also supports. Although it would eventually create a headache for the company I work for. As a satellite tv provider, my employer would be faced with the transition of tv entertainment from the airwaves to the internet. Newspaper organizations will be able to actually transition their news from print to online versions and still receive payment based on consumption. Barring some hidden agenda or loopholes to nationalize media sources, I don’t see any reason for Republicans to oppose this type of legislation.

So….to John McCain we say…WTF?!

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