Let’s just get this out of the way: net neutrality.
Now that you’ve been lulled to drowsiness, pour yourself a cup of coffee, do a couple jumping jacks, whatever you need to get yourself through this subject, because it does matter to you if you use the Internet for anything more than playing solitaire.
Net neutrality is the term used to describe they way the Internet currently works for us. Content providers, among them Netflix, HeraldNet.com and your favorite gardening blog, have a level playing field in terms of how the data each transmits is treated by Internet service providers, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.
Without it, those broadband providers could set up fast lanes and slow lanes on the information superhighway, charging content providers more to get their content to you unfettered. Don’t pay up, as Netflix found late last year when it had a dispute with Comcast, and its bandwidth was constricted, meaning subscribers saw more spinning wheels while watching “Orange is the New Black.” When Netflix agreed to pay, normal streaming speeds returned.
The topic has been brewing throughout the year as the Federal Communications Commission has been taking public comment on the issue and nears a decision on whether to allow broadband providers to set up and charge for the fast lanes.
President Obama on Monday urged the FCC to treat the Internet as the public utility it is and keep net neutrality intact.
To which, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, responded via Twitter, “‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet,” proving in one tweet he doesn’t understand the issue but does appreciate the $47,000 in campaign donations he received from Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and two other telecom companies, as reported by Gizmodo. (It’s worth noting that the only member, Democrat or Republican, on the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet who received no donations from the telecom industry was Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.)
In April, we pointed out on this page the potential harm in creating two tiers for Internet data.
Netflix can bend to broadband providers’ demands for access to the top tier and then pass off the increased cost of business to its customers. But startups, maybe the next Facebook, and smaller content providers — where the vast stock of the Internet’s information is created and resides — would be relegated to an increasingly packed slow lane.
This isn’t about unduly regulating business but about managing a shared resource for the public good.