All your Internets are belong to us

Christen Mullet

For many of us, the Internet is our lifeblood. It keeps us connected, it entertains us and it keeps us informed. But what if your freedom to access whatever content you want, when you want it, was suddenly taken away? What if you were forced to pay more to access your favorite websites?

Network neutrality is the idea that all Internet content and modes of communication should be kept free from restrictions by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the government. But the freedom of the Internet is now being threatened by ISPs, which are trying to introduce a tiered service model, like that of cable TV, which would determine what types of websites you can and cannot visit.

A tiered system would give ISPs control over how fast content from different websites is delivered, allowing them to discriminate against the content of their competitors. This means customers could be charged higher fees to access certain websites quickly. One ISP could charge another for faster access to their content, passing the charges onto consumers.

Tiered access would give ISPs the power to restrict content viewed by its customers and allow them to give preference to websites in competition with others. For example, ISPs could grant their customers faster access to YouTube than they do to Hulu, effectively making up the consumer’s mind as to which video service he or she will use.

The most commonly suggested model is a two-tiered model, offering one tier for preferred providers and another tier for the rest. This means you would have to pay more to access popular websites. Opponents of this model say it would remove competition between ISPs and force subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services.

But not everyone supports the idea of net neutrality. Some say that ISPs have no plans to block content or downgrade network performance and would only use the tiered system to improve quality of service. I tend to believe; however, when we think some advance in technology will never be used for evil, it usually will be. (Think of nuclear fission – developed as an alternative energy source but later used to fashion the atomic bomb.)

Some ISPs have already intentionally slowed access to and discriminated against such services as P2P communications, file transfer and online games. Some have even instituted cell phone style billing that charges for overages. Comcast recently ran into legal trouble with the FCC after it prohibited users of its high-speed Internet service from using file-sharing software.

But is net neutrality really being threatened? In fact, several lawmakers have already introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination by ISPs.

Unfortunately, few people have even heard of the debate over net neutrality and many find the issue confusing. When I sat down to research this topic, I had little idea of what the demise of net neutrality would really mean for me.

Net neutrality is all about preserving our current freedoms over the Internet. Right now, content over the Internet is completely free for anyone to access and use. Under current laws, ISPs can’t restrict our access or use of content over the Internet. Beware, some still plan to abolish network neutrality — making information shared freely over the Internet yet another commodity to be bought and sold.

Christen Mullett is a senior psychology major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected] .