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October 16, 2015 Article 2 min read

If your business is like most, then you have data and applications in the cloud. Many applications — for instance, email and other systems like Microsoft Office 365 or Salesforce — house mission-critical information. But imagine if the company that provides your Internet access favored competing products and slowed access to your apps or data?

This is the concept behind net neutrality. Net neutrality is the idea that broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) — including mobile carriers — stay “neutral” with respect to the data and other content traversing their networks. The subject is getting a lot of attention since the FCC’s new Open Internet Rules went into effect in June 2015.

Proponents say net neutrality supports free speech, competition, and innovation, and it benefits the businesses and individuals — you and me — who access it. Net neutrality, both in concept and in terms of policy, becomes a bigger deal when you consider how few ISPs control the majority of Internet traffic.

Under the new FCC rules, ISPs can’t block access to legal content or selectively impair, or favor, certain traffic, say, from affiliates. The rules also reclassify ISPs as telecommunications services, a move that’s raised the hackles of large broadband providers.

Opponents of the rules argue they stifle innovation and investment in broadband infrastructure and that content companies that use more bandwidth (like Netflix, Amazon, or Facebook) should pay more.

Let’s face it: The idea of neutrality today already is a misnomer. Relationships such as peering and content delivery networks, where content providers co-locate servers within large ISPs to speed content delivery (think popular YouTube videos) are not uncommon. Such interconnections can benefit consumers and businesses, including the ISPs themselves (by easing traffic bottlenecks). They also put smaller businesses that lack the cash to pay at a disadvantage.

The way I see it, the real issue here is competition or, rather, lack of it. For example, if my local cable company interferes with a movie I’m streaming from Netflix, I want the option of canceling service and signing up with another ISP. But how many choices do I have for Internet service? How many do you have? See what I mean about competition?

Personally, I’m not opposed to regulation that fosters a competitive marketplace. It’s too soon to know if the new rules truly will. One thing is certain: The debate will stream on (no pun intended). And it’s an important one to watch. That is, if your content isn’t throttled on the way to your tablet.

And that’s my last word.