When it comes to the regulation of the Internet there are usually extremely passionate debates, as many believe that the Internet should be left free and open to all users. This is why a recent proposal by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create what is being called a ‘two tiered Internet’ has already led to a number of major players in the online industry – including Google, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon – to write to the FCC in protest.
The proposal was created by the head of the FCC, Tim Wheeler, which states that network providers should be able to make deals with websites in order to provide them with faster connection speeds and video streaming quality. Many claim that this would lead to large businesses being able to expand their offerings while smaller websites would struggle with lower connection speeds, ultimately creating an Internet hierarchy. However, Wheeler has justified his proposal, and in a recent blog post even wrote that he supports an open Internet policy and would not want a two tiered Internet.
In his blog he said: "I do not believe we should leave the market unprotected for multiple more years while lawyers for the biggest corporate players tie the FCC’s protections up in court. Notwithstanding this settlement loan, all regulatory options remain on the table. If the proposal before us now turns out to be insufficient or if we observe anyone taking advantage of the rule, I won’t hesitate to use Title II." Title II is part of the American Telecommunications Act of 1996, which if used can allow the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, making it subject to stronger regulations.
Wheeler went on to say: "If broadband providers would seek to use the commercially reasonable test as justification of activities in which users can’t effectively use that pathway, or the capabilities of it are degraded, I suggest they save their breath since such conduct would be a violation of the Open Internet rules we propose. If anyone acts to degrade the service for all for the benefit of a few, I intend to use every available power to stop it."
However, even with Wheeler’s claims that his plans would not infringe on open Internet policies, protests have been arranged across the world to prevent his proposals becoming official after a vote at the FCC on 15th May. Tech investor Brad Field also called for small Internet companies to protest just as they did back in 2012 when the US government proposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) laws. Back then, websites including Wikipedia, Google and Reddit blacked out for a day.
In an article, Mr Field suggested that websites should: “Let the world see "Waiting for", "Connecting", and "Buffering" show up in their browser continuously throughout the day. Explain what is going on. Then click a button to bypass the Slow Lane and get normal connectivity. Instead of everyone getting tangled up in the legal question of what "net neutrality" means, consumers can see what could happen if / when ISPs can decide which companies get to use their fast lanes by paying extra and who is relegated to the slow lane.”
Even though the FCC’s proposal would currently only affect American network providers, if it goes ahead the effects will be felt worldwide. The issue of Net Neutrality is something that Dan Fisher, Fluidata’s Technical Director, has already considered before. He claims: “To an extent multiple tiers already exist, networks generally prioritise certain types of traffic over and above others already with customers paying a premium for this (VoIP for example).
“Prioritising within a given media type, e.g. VoIP, would limit choice, create a closed market place and lead to a “use our supported provider or it won’t work well” scenario. Networks against Net Neutrality argue they need these deals to support the exponential growth in bandwidth usage, maybe we are all just looking from the wrong side? If someone wants to access content at a certain speed, shouldn’t they pay for that through higher connection costs?”