News Columns & Blogs

Ruling leaves Web less restricted

Ever since the Internet has come into existence, the question of whether or not to keep it a completely neutral territory or allow it to be governed by the companies that bring us access has been very highly debated. The general public keeps its interests in neutrality so anyone can access any legal website or service equally without worry that their provider will block it, while the providers have a very keen interest in charging more for access to competitors’ services, namely bandwidth heavy video streaming. On top of the Internet market, most of the Internet providers have a stake in television as well so the urge to control Internet access reaches far beyond the Internet itself.

The most recent development in net neutrality is the decision by the FCC to regulate an ISP’s ability to control access to certain websites and services. When concerning services who are a direct competitor of an ISP, they may be able to charge more for access to such services if it is not deemed by the FCC to be “unreasonable discrimination.” They are not allowed to outright block any lawful or non-harmful devices. Wireless providers, however, are granted much more leniency with restricting access, likely due to the slower data speeds and increasing demand for streaming services over such networks.

The release then goes on to clarify that the “no unreasonable discrimination” rule was not likely to allow ISPs to have a “pay for priority” policy. It would affect far more than just restricting access to competitors’ services, but ultimately result in the degrading of non-prioritized customers’ service to push them to pay more. With the amount of vague terminology used, it is safe to say that no agreements around this topic will be reached for quite a while, with any estimations being at least two years.

While it may seem like a step backward for net neutrality, the primary reason for the new regulations was that ISPs have been “blocking or degrading disfavored content without disclosing their practices to consumers.” You may have thought you were accessing the full extent of the Internet, but the ISP may have been secretly governing which websites had priority and faster data transfer. No evidence has been shown that suggests this was happening on a wide scale, but the fact it was happening at all is a big reason for concern.

Ben Harshbarger, a technician with Computer Renaissance, can be reached at (941) 753-8277.