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Keep equal access to the internet

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Chris Sevey, guest columnist

Imagine driving on an interstate highway system with all the exits controlled by private companies, which could charge any toll at their whim.

Likewise, charges shouldn’t exist that deny entry to the internet, the “information superhighway.”

The internet, the brainchild of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, made its first transmission in 1969. The military later handed it off to the National Science Foundation, which worked with academicians and corporations to create an internet “backbone.”

It was opened to commercial traffic in the early 1990s and is operated by a collective of companies under antitrust agreements that prohibit a single entity from controlling it. Internet Service Providers charge residents and businesses for the “the last-mile” connection to the backbone.

Under the concept of Network Neutrality adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, all internet data must be treated equally, whether it’s an information or shopping site, videos or programming, gaming or any other type of communications.

Internet Service Providers, including the major telecommunication companies can’t use “slow or fast lanes” to alter the competitive playing field, a particular concern for leading content providers such as Google, Netflix, Amazon, eBay, Twitter, and Facebook.

In a 2-1 decision in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld Network Neutrality, ruled the internet is a public utility — a basic necessity such as electrical and water service — that can be regulated by the FCC.

It rejected the position of the telecommunications giants, the broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, TimeWarner that it should be a lightly “information service.”

The majority decision stated, “Over the past two decades, this content has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, from profound actions like choosing a leader, building a career, and falling in love to more quotidian ones like hailing a cab and watching a movie. The same assuredly cannot be said for broadband providers’ own add-on applications.”

The case is certainly headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans may introduce legislation trying to block Network Neutrality as a government regulation hampering industry innovation. However, President Barack Obama, who favors Network Neutrality, would likely veto it.

At Enseva, we’re a next-generation data center — a repository storing and managing data from businesses throughout Iowa and the Midwest. We’re neither a content provider nor an internet Service Provider.

Our concern is that a non-neutral net could lead to an overall increase in acquiring internet resources. For instance, if you want access to Facebook, that’s an extra $5. Want premium access to Netflix to prevent video buffering? That’ll be $5 extra.

In one instance in 2013 involving a “superhighway toll,” Comcast forced Netflix to pay a higher “fee” for its traffic by slowing the “buffering” of it videos. Netflix passed the charge along to its customers.

Service providers should treat traffic equally, meaning my Netflix traffic isn’t any more important than your Facebook traffic. With a non-neutral net, it opens the doors for internet Service Providers to start ‘nickel and diming’ customers to access certain resources.

Without Net Neutrality, the ISPs could determine “winners” and “losers.”

Put it this way, what if one of your marketing competitors paid the top five internet Services Providers a monthly fee so that business could have high-speed access to their website content, but because you couldn’t afford the hefty “high-speed access fees,” everyone who went to your website only had dial-up speeds?

Perhaps people would get frustrated with slow-loading pages and move on.

I don’t think many service providers would do anything too drastic, at least initially, mostly in fear of customer backlash. The problem is that there are a lot of areas only serviced by a single provider, so some people may not have much of a choice.

That could lead to service providers making small changes here and there that over the next five-to-10 years yield a drastically different internet. One could only imagine what service providers might conjure up over the next five years given the opportunity to manipulate their service plans in such a way.

• Chris Sevey, a Waterloo native, is chief technology officer for Enseva, which is based in Hiawatha.

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