As time goes on it seems as if we are inevitably heading towards a nationwide debate over net neutrality. Put simply the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced back in April they are considering a law allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to offer online content providers (mainly websites) what is being referred to as an “Internet Fast Lane.” This fast lane would allow for websites to pay a nice sum of money to ISPs to make their content load faster. However there is no evidence that it would increase internet speeds overall, in fact it may be more likely that speeds will stay exactly the same, but get slower for those who can’t pay for these “fast lanes” (such as smaller websites like Oraclenewspaper.com).

Visualization of data moving through a portion of the internet. Courtesy of the Opte Project
Visualization of data moving through a portion of the internet. Courtesy of the Opte Project

One of the biggest advocates against these fast lanes is actually Netflix.com. The video streaming service unsurprisingly uses a lot of data, so it would cost them a small fortune to pay the ISPs just to make sure that customers get good service, and if there isn’t fast loading times, people tend to cancel subscriptions for  video streaming. So it’s safe to say Netflix has a huge stake in these laws.

Netflix already faced huge video buffering issues over the summer when ISPs like Verizon and Comcast failed to upgrade their infrastructure enough to keep up with Netflix services. The details of that debacle get a little too technical for a simple overview of the situation, but the short story is that Netflix had to shell out a large amount of money to get these ISPs’ hardware up to par on streaming.

Now anyone with a month or so of an economics class under their belt may see a small issue with Netflix having to give money to the companies that would benefit greatly from being able to say they can run Netflix the fastest, and you’d be right normally. However, due to how difficult it can be installing the cables to access the internet all over an area, most towns and cities will have a very limited selection of ISPs to chose from in their area. The Tampa Bay Area is pretty lucky in that respect, almost every neighborhood has multiple choices for Internet, which keeps things competitive and prices relatively lower. But in many more sparsely populated areas, especially the American Midwest, have one choice for internet access;  many areas have also signed into exclusive contracts where only one ISP is given permission to setup. Those areas face much higher prices and much worse service overall, since they don’t have to compete at all for customers.

So the fate of the Internet is at a bit of a crossroads, should net neutrality be abolished there is the risk that the internet becomes regulated and censored, similar to television today. Also higher prices are likely to follow for consumers and producers, while ISPs profit.

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