Protecting Your Rights to Binge

A few weeks ago, I presented on one example of digital disruption—how digital businesses (like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon) are not only changing the way we watch TV, but also how TV is being made. I talked to some classmates about the project and got some great feedback, so for this post, I wanted to expand on something my presentation was lacking. Let’s talk about net neutrality (the open internet) and why it’s so important, especially for streaming services. Talking about net neutrality is especially timely as AT&T proposes to purchase Time Warner. It will be interesting to see what the impacts of this could have.

Net neutrality is “the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.” Net neutrality ensures that Internet service providers cannot prioritize websites of their choosing; it upholds are our rights to use the Internet freely.

In 2014, the FCC released a plan to allow companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon to create pay-to-play fast lanes—challenging the freedoms of net neutrality. What would this look like? For example, if Netflix paid a premium, users access to their site and content would be significantly faster than other websites on the Internet who were not paying the premium. Doesn’t sound so bad at first, but when you start to think about it, some downsides are immediately clear. This would make competition much more difficult, especially for start-ups; websites that couldn’t afford to pay the premium wouldn’t have a chance. Newsweek said, “had there been no net neutrality in 2004, the world might still be on Myspace.” Without net neutrality Internet service providers would be able to favor companies over others, they would be able to control what content we had better access to. They would be able to discriminate between which companies.

net-neutrality-protesterThankfully, companies with powerful voices (and a lot of money), were against this proposal.

Quickly following the FCC’s announcement, Silicon Valley companies banded together and wrote a letter in protest. “[T]he [FCC] intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them. This represents a grave threat to the Internet.”

Netflix was one of the companies to sign the letter. Netflix accounts for nearly one third of all traffic on the Internet. When the proposal had been made by the FCC, Netflix was already in a battle with Comcast over fees it was charging the streaming site for uninterrupted delivery of its content to users. Comcast wouldn’t upgrade their equipment to handle the increased web traffic produced, in part, by Netflix, unless Netflix paid fees. The two companies “battled” for nearly two years, during which Netflix service for Comcast subscribers slowed significantly. Of this battle, Ken Florane, the Vice President for Content Delivery at Netflix said, “Comcast is double dipping by getting both its subscribers and Internet content providers to pay for access to each other.”

Back to the FCC’s proposed “pay-to-play” fast lane plan. In June 2016, a federal appeals court upheld rules for broadband providers that prohibit them from blocking or slowing down consumers’ access to internet content. 

76582a77da3d81000ca6d19ea20e5924-png“Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web, and it ensures the Internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler.

Net neutrality gives us access to any content we want; access to streaming sites and to binge at our pleasure. To watch and use the internet as we please! If Verizon and Comcast were able to block and slow down our Internet access, this would have disrupted our access to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other websites.

Another reason that streaming companies like Netflix were against the FCC’s original proposal was in part because of user expectations. People get used to a certain quality and then struggle to return to lower quality. How often do you watch videos on tape? The video quality of DVDs was superior, so we abandoned tape. If Netflix quality improved dramatically because it was in the “fast lane” of internet access, and then one day it couldn’t afford the premium or the lane was “clogged,” users experience would change drastically and negatively impact their business.

There are plenty of reasons outside of streaming why you should care about net neutrality. It protects and upholds your right to free speech. We expect for the internet to be open. “The FCC’s Open Internet rules protect and maintain open, uninhibited access to legal online content without broadband Internet access providers being allowed to block, impair, or establish fast/slow lanes to lawful content.”

Countries like China do not have net neutrality and the government heavily monitors and censors the internet. The government employs over 100,000 people to “police” the Internet. The government also hires people to post pro-government propaganda on the web. If you want to see how restrictive the internet can be, take a look at the Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations approved by the Chinese government.

FCC Riles Oliver Stone to Jello Biafra on Web Fast-Lane Vote

Support #NetNeutrality!

7 comments

  1. polmankevin · ·

    Awesome blog post. I think hindering net neutrality is a really dangerous idea, and potentially a really dangerous practice. It would create enormous barriers to entry that would favor large corporations and disrupt innovation. The internet without net neutrality would resemble that of an oppressive government, it would put a dangerous amount of power in the hands of large companies – especially service providers. It’s encouraging to see that both large companies, small companies, and the courts are fighting this idea. Hopefully the internet will remain “a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth.”

  2. katieInc_ · ·

    Awesome post! Before reading your blog, I had read about net neutrality and thought I had a pretty good understanding of it. However, your post explains what is really at stake in this argument: free speech. I thought it was simply making certain websites operate faster than others. I think it is so interesting that the company’s who feasibly could benefit most from the absence of net neutrality openly fought against it. After reflecting on the origin of the internet and the many opportunities and possibilities it provides anyone with basic access to it, it makes sense why these large companies are against it. At the end of the day, we all want free access, free opportunity, and free speech.

  3. francoismba · ·

    Extremely interesting post and a great addition to your class presentation! Net neutrality will not only negatively impact free speech but also new business ideas. Typically, people want, and are willing to pay for, different options. Implementing one solution, for both small and large companies, will constrain innovations by preventing some companies from making successful products out of new business ideas. Furthermore, the government shouldn’t be able to chose who “wins” and “loses” on the internet. Start-ups and small companies will have an extremely difficult time competing with companies with deep pockets.

  4. alinacasari · ·

    Great post!! This was such an interesting topic that relates well to your presentation. I had no idea how serious of an issue net neutrality was and it’s something that I had not previously considered at length. I think it’s really important that we can access any content we want. Your example about Myspace is huge! It’s crazy to think that without net neutrality we could hinder our own progress and advancement on different platforms.

    I was surprised to learn this was even a consideration by the FCC. I think it was really nice to read that Netflix signed the letter against it, as they too saw the disadvantages it would bring. I think the right to free speech you mention is an important argument. This might be possible in other countries, but net neutrality seems vital to upholding some American expectations we have for our freedoms.

  5. Great post! I think it is great that you expanded on the feedback you recieved and created a great blog post out of it! I learned a lot in this blog post, but I particularly related to the end of this blog post. I spent my semester abroad in Beijing, China. There were a ton of factors which caused culture shock ( my semester abroad there was the best semester of my life), but the main thing which drove me crazy was the internet!! As we know, in China, Google, Facebook, Insta, ect..are all banned by the Chinese government do to censorship issues. For me to be able to access these websites in order to communicate with friends and family from home and also use my social media platforms I had to use a VPN which rerouted by internet connection from China to Boston to in a way go around the blockage ( the technical aspects are a bit over my head) however, I know this led to one major thing…EXTREMELY slow internet. It would take 2 hours for 5 minute Youtube video to load. I was not able to get through one 20min Netflix episode in 6 months. “googling” one thing could take 10 minutes. Additionally, these internet “police” in China are an active and frightening source. I was always hesitant to send emails describing negative experiences in China. The internet is highly restrictive. You never know who is tracking you there. I promised myself I would never take the internet connection I have in the states for granted ever again! I appreciate the defense of my right to binge! You never understand the value of what you have until it is gone.

  6. Great followup! In general, I’m supportive of Net Neutrality, but I do think the Cable companies have a point in that the policy basically requires them to fund and support their competitors.

  7. Great post! You delve past the surface about net neutrality as many people might just think that pay to pay is not as bad as it sounds. These restrictions are the epitome of helping big companies while stifling the smaller companies and new start ups. On top of that, there are actually multiple areas in the United States where only one or two internet companies are available. For example, my apartment during the summer only had access to Comcast and Time Warner Cable (both of which are notoriously bad) which meant we had to pick one or have no internet at all. This forces the consumer’s hand to support a product which they might not believe in (either its quality or their stance on net neutrality) while also giving the companies more leverage to push their agenda (more money = more lobbyist power). I think it’d be interesting if you mentioned the opposite side of net neutrality, like instances where restrictions are important. One of the most obvious examples is if you search something on Google and a message pops up saying that some of the searches have been removed. Overall, good job!

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