What Is Net Neutrality And How Does It Even Affect Me

What is Net Neutrality And Will It Affect Me?

  • In April, FCC chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai proposed to end Net Neutrality

  • On November 21, it was announced the FCC will vote on December 14 to do away with Net Neutrality

  • Service providers have a long history of needing regulations in order to provide a truly open Internet

In December, the Federal Communications Commission will be voting on whether or not to gut Net Neutrality. Users of the Web, especially those with online businesses, are genuinely concerned about the repercussions of such a drastic proposal. It would literally change America’s Internet as we know it for the worse.

Net Neutrality is the reason why America has an open Internet. It prevents broadband providers from being able to control what you look at online. Without Net Neutrality, providers will be able to create virtual fast and slow lanes which will cater to companies that “pay to play,” while giving providers the ability to block content at their choosing.

Proponents of doing away with Net Neutrality claim allowing broadband providers to charge more for premium content will attract investors. In April, FCC chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai proposed to end Net Neutrality, depending on the outcome of a vote from the commission. On November 21, it was announced the fate of our open Internet will come to a vote on December 14.

Over the years, telecommunication companies have given Internet users legitimate reasons to demand Net Neutrality.

Madison River Communication Blocked VoIP

In 2005, the FCC ordered Madison River Communication to “refrain from blocking” VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol, calls. Madison River was also ordered to pay a $15,000 fine to the government.

We saw a problem, and we acted swiftly to ensure that Internet voice service remains a viable option for consumers.

The North Carolina-based company was accused of port blocking VoIP provider Vonage in an attempt to stop customers from using their services. Port blocking is when a provider prevents certain types of Internet traffic from their networks.

Larger VoIP providers like Vonage were not the only ones that fell victim to port blocking in 2005. CNET reported Nuvio, a little VoIP provider out of Kansas City, Missouri, claimed their customers were affected by at least one telecommunication company, although they had not filed a formal complaint with the FCC at the time of the article.

Comcast Blocked Peer-To-Peer

In 2008, the FCC handed down a landmark ruling when they prohibited Comcast from continuing to conduct a practice of blocking peer-to-peer applications.

Comcast faced no monetary sanctions, but the commission demanded that they halt the act of blocking and disclose the throttling methods used to block peer-to-peer applications. Wired reported that, “According to the commission, Comcast uses deep-packet inspection to monitor customers’ internet traffic, and routes packets according to their content, not their destination.”

In essence, Comcast opens its customers’ mail because it wants to deliver mail not based on the address on the envelope but on the type of letter contained therein.

The commission found that in some areas up to three-quarters of all file sharing connections were being throttled and causing a significant disruption to Internet traffic. Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said the company was grateful the commission “did not find any conduct by Comcast that justified a fine,” but insisted the company was not blocking access to any websites or applications, including peer-to-peer.

We are disappointed in the Commission’s divided conclusion because we believe that our network management choices were reasonable, wholly consistent with industry practices and that we did not block access to websites or online applications, including peer-to-peer services.

There was speculation from the commission that Comcast’s actions were profit-orientated. BitTorrent was one of Comcast’s main targets. Users of BitTorrent were able to watch high-quality videos, which could have been viewed as competition for Comcast’s video-on-demand (VOD) service.

Comcast’s throttling of legal internet traffic had nothing to do with network management as the company claims. It had everything to do with a big company trying to exert its power over a captive internet market.

AT&T’s Secret Deal With Apple

In 2009, it was discovered that AT&T and Apple had a secret agreement to ban any apps that allowed iPhone users to make phone calls using the wireless data connection. The FCC commission learned of the agreement following an investigation after the two companies were asked why Google’s innovative Voice app was not allowed into the iPhone store.

Skype’s phone app was restricted to only work when the iPhone was connected to Wi-Fi. At the time, not only were regular Skype calls free, international calls were substantially cheaper than they were with phone carriers.

The iPhone store was the only way to get apps without voiding your warranty. This led the FCC to investigate if AT&T and Apple were colluding together to eliminate competition. AT&T denied blocking Skype from their customers. Instead, it appears they asked their friends at Apple to do that for them.

By the end of 2009, AT&T allowed Skype on the iPhone. When the company made the announcement, there was no mention of the FCC. AT&T made it sound as if there were no other influence behind the decision.

IPhone is an innovative device that dramatically changed the game in wireless when it was introduced just two years ago. Today’s decision was made after evaluating our customers’ expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer.

MetroPCS Blocked Streaming Videos

In 2011, MetroPCS sued the FCC after they were accused of violating Internet-openness rules that were passed in December 2010. The rules prohibit wireless carriers from blocking websites or prohibiting customers from using VoIP services, such as Skype. MetroPCS was guilty of both. Their pay-as-you-go 4G plans blocked all streaming videos except for YouTube.

MetroPCS followed Verizon’s lead and sued the FCC by claiming the commission overstepped their boundaries by retroactively imposing “new conditions” on “a spectrum the company had leased.” The Free Press wasted no time in criticizing MetroPCS for challenging rules that were already considered too lenient.

Instead of responding to the public outcry over its walled-garden practices by offering open-internet access services, MetroPCS has chosen to follow the lead of Verizon Wireless and sue the FCC to strike down the commission’s weak, loophole-ridden rules.

MetroPCS hopes that by helping to vacate the rules in court, it will be able to continue with its anticonsumer, anticompetitive practices of blocking popular applications like Skype and Netflix unless its subscribers pay a steep ransom.

Verizon Blocks Google Wallet

In 2010, Verizon, T-Mobile, and At&T teamed up with Discover and Barclays to form a mobile payment company called Isis. They used a technology called near-field communications (NFC), which allowed customers to store multiple cards and pay with their phone.

In 2011, Google introduced an almost identical NFC service called Google Wallet. The service required the customer to have an NFC chip and Google’s app. The wireless providers backing Isis decided to block Google Wallet, their chief competitor.

Samsung’s Nexus S was the first phone to pair with Google Wallet and have a built-in NFC chip. While the majority of providers were against Google Wallet, Sprint teamed up with Mastercard and Citigroup to back the project. However, Mastercard supported both team Isis and Google Wallet.

Verizon asked Google not to include the NFC chip feature with the phones stating that Google Wallet needed to be integrated into the phones to work, but did not go into detail on why that was an issue.

Google Wallet is different from other widely-available mobile-commerce services. In order to work as architected by Google, Google Wallet needs to be integrated into a new, secure and proprietary hardware element in our phones.

Verizon Blocks Tethering

In 2012, Verizon Wireless was fined $1.25 million after the FCC conducted a probe into the company’s practice of blocking customers from tethering apps. Tethering is when you link your phone to another device, such as a laptop, to provide Internet access for the device.

Verizon and AT&T used to charge extra monthly fees for tethering to other devices. Verizon determined that the use of third-party apps that allowed customers to tether without the additional fees was a breach of contract.

After Verizon demanded Google stop selling third-party tethering apps in the Google Play Store, the FCC began an investigation. What Verizon was doing was outside the rules for the broadcast spectrum. The rules require companies, such as Verizon, to “allow customers to freely use the devices and applications of their choosing.”

Verizon was not the only carrier to deny tethering capabilities. Apple had no tethering apps in its iTunes store, and AT&T customers claimed to be blocked from tethering apps in the Google Play Store. AT&T even went as far as to force their customers using third-party tethering apps to either stop tethering altogether or be automatically signed up for an upgraded tethering package.

Verizon was the only company fined because of their holdings included a “C Block” spectrum. According to FCC officials, the rules for those bands are extremely tight. Other carriers, such as AT&T, that use other blocks of spectrum are not held to the same openness standards.

Apple Blocks FaceTime

In 2012, Apple announced that FaceTime would only be allowed for a few customers who agreed to buy a shared data plans. AT&T feared that if too many customers began using FaceTime, it might hang up their system, leading to dropped calls other issues for all customers.

We decided to take this cautious approach for important reasons. To do otherwise might have risked an adverse impact on the services our customers expect — voice quality in particular — if usage of FaceTime exceeded expectations.

AT&T was reported to the FCC by public interest groups that claimed the company’s actions were violating Internet access rules. The FCC prohibits wireless companies from blocking apps that may be competition with their own video and voice services.

AT&T cannot block FaceTime based on claims of potential congestion. AT&T simply can’t justify blocking an app that competes with its voice and texting services unless customers purchase a more expensive monthly plan that includes an unlimited amount of those very same services.

AT&T finally buckled and allowed for all users, regardless of their data plan, to use the FaceTime app.

You can see from the track record that if Net Neutrality dies, the Internet as we know it dies with it. Broadband providers have salivated over the idea of premium Internet packages like a pack of starved wolves for years.

The only benefits will be for service providers who will finally have free reign to stamp on all the additional fees they want for what we can only hope would be full access to the Internet. Given that providers will also be able to blacklist websites as well, depending on your Internet provider, we may all be seeing different versions of a heavily regulated Web.

 

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About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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