What is Net Neutrality?
The latest beef between Verizon and Netflix has brought to light a topic not many people know about, Net Neutrality. When explaining net neutrality it can get fairly complicated but the short version of what it means is that internet providers, or the “gatekeepers” to the internet. Verizon, AT&T , and Comcast, are just that; a portal to the internet. Under net neutrality, these providers have no influence on how their customers “surf” the internet, leaving the regulation up to the FCC and the government.
Currently this in place only for wire line providers. The wireless providers have been, for the most part, left out of the net neutrality talks until recently. It started when Verizon announced that they will be throttling the speeds of their Unlimited Data customers when networks become congested. The FCC sent a letter to Verizon’s CEO, Dan Mead, “voicing” their concerns that Verizon was trying base its network management on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology.
You might think that this isn’t really that much of a deal. Verizon did this with its 3G network and there really wasn’t much backlash, but what AT&T and T-Mobile have recently implemented may be a bigger deal in regard to net neutrality.
AT&T has announced that they will start a program called “Sponsored Data”, which lets content providers pay AT&T a fee so usage of their apps and services don't count against a customer's data plan. In a sense, AT&T would be deciding what apps you use and how you use the internet based how you spend your money or manage your data allowance. This is in direct conflict with the principles of net neutrality and could have some serious consequences, mostly for the “little guy”. What I mean is that only the companies that have the revenue to pay AT&T are going to get priority “space” on their network, giving the advantage to those larger companies and leaving the little out in the cold.
T-Mobile’s plan isn’t such a direct violation of the core principles outlined in net neutrality as AT&T 's, but it does start down a slippery slope. T-Mobile is allowing their customers to stream music from certain apps without using any of their data allowance. The fear with this is that T-Mobile will be inadvertently giving customers an incentive to choose one of its preferred music apps over competitors. If you're a T-Mobile customer, why would you sign up for a service like Rdio when you know you'll be able to stream all you want from Spotify without being penalized? See the problem?
As wireless services and providers become more consolidated (yes there has been YELLING again that Sprint will buy T-Mobile) and as more and more people get their only access to the internet from a wireless provider, Wireless Net Neutrality needs to be addressed. There are people that say what AT&T and T-Mobile are doing are good things because it gives companies, or apps, a boost that they might not necessarily have received. My opinion, ANYTHING that limits our choices is a BAD thing. As things like “Sponsored Data” programs and the merging of wireless providers continue, our choices are getting slim. There is a reason there are laws in this country against Monopolies and that is to protect the consumer.
Net neutrality and Wireless net neutrality are complicated issues and there seems to be no clear cut acceptance in the near future. To read more about both topics you can go here; http://www.businessinsider.com/wireless-net-neutrality-2014-7 , and here; http://www.businessinsider.com/fcc-net-neutrality-decision-2014-5 . Here is where you can go to get more information on the on again, off again, Sprint – T-Mobile merger; http://www.businessinsider.com/sprint-to-buy-t-mobile-2014-4 .