Currently, the Internet operates on the idea that every website, in terms of access, is equal. That’s not going to last for long: Verizon just won a case to strike down current net neutrality rules. Here’s why that’s bad news, and what you can do about it.
Break down the ruling for me.
Here’s the full ruling, for legal scholars, but the gist of it is this: A judge has ruled that Internet service providers can, in fact, privilege traffic for certain sites willing to pay for the service. Essentially, if most pages load in two seconds, in theory you can pay an ISP to load your particular page in one second.
So essentially it’s an Internet fast lane?
Yeah, and it immediately opens up a gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Essentially, if sites can pay to privilege their traffic, those sites will, in theory, have an advantage over smaller sites who can’t. In practice, though, the real question is one of abuse.
There’s essentially nothing to stop an ISP from putting a site that isn’t willing to pay in the slowest lane possible. If a site doesn’t load in less than an eyeblink, many users will click away. And now Comcast can gleefully put the brakes on your Netflix traffic while it tries to make you buy its streaming service.
There could potentially be a chilling effect as well. Sites critical of how your ISP does business might suddenly, mysteriously, load more slowly than those all buddy-buddy with it.
And in the worst case scenario, you’re the one who’s going to be paying for these sites: This essentially opens the door to ISPs “bundling” website speed. It’s mostly a joke on Reddit, right now, but it could happen.
What will be the most likely concrete effects?
Long term, it will likely make the Internet more annoying than anything else. The truth of the matter is that most ISPs probably need to weigh how much they can potentially make blackmailing websites against the fact that people don’t blame the website for loading slowly: They blame their ISP. And if the majority of websites do what seems likely, which is close ranks and tell ISPs to get stuffed, then that may settle the issue before the courts can get at it.
This is also far from settled. It’s unlikely the FCC or advocacy groups like the ACLU are just going to let the matter drop, and the FCC can still pass regulations and closely investigate claims. Still, if you’ve got a concern about being able to access the web quickly and safely, consider writing your representative and Senator. Essentially, the only way to keep the Internet from getting a lot worse is to speak up now.
(Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr.)