This week, President Obama weighed in on the so-called “net neutrality” debate. As of now, the internet maintains pure net neutrality. That is, your internet service provider (like Verizon) does not favor one website over another in allocating bandwidth, including download and upload speeds.
Giant Amazon.com and your niece’s tiny blog load at the same speed. Internet service providers (ISPs) — such as Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable — want to lower the bandwidth for some sites and raise it for others, depending on which sites are willing to pay a premium, of course. This potential monumental shift in language is meant to excite you, with ISPs saying they’ll offer internet “fast lanes” to your favorite websites. But the flip side is that small websites that cannot pay the premium will load slowly, severely limiting accessibility.
President Obama stated, “We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. Companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business.”
In his announcement, Mr. Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate service providers’ potential discrimination among websites. In response, the publicly traded stocks of ISPs such as Time Warner Cable dropped by as much as 7 percent.
Net Neutrality is incredibly important to the free exchange of ideas that is the Internet. If neutrality is broken, through legislation or otherwise, a hierarchy will result where one set of ideas and businesses may appear before others — some accessible, some behind a wall of internet traffic. Time Warner Cable could decide that only those news outlets that pay the premium, such as FOX News or MSNBC, will be accessible through the Internet “fast lanes,” leaving small alternative news outlets that can’t afford the premium to wallow in the mire.
It is likely that net neutrality may be one of the first issues in front of the newly constructed Congress. However, this is not a partisan issue. It is an issue of freedom and accessibility of information that transcends the petty squabbles of our elected officials. We would not allow smooth wide roads to be built to get customers to Fortune 500 companies while rutted dirt trails led to small businesses.
What’s always been exciting about the Internet is that anyone can post a blog or put up a website and attract an audience, alongside giant companies who promote their products through their sites. Internet users should have equal access to everything on the web, without favoritism to the big players.
This article was co-written by Lisa Bloom and Bloom Firm associate attorney Jordan Oslin. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.