Thursday, June 18, 2015

Net Neutrality: The First Amendment Issue Of Our Time

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With two recent legal development shining intense light on the issue of net neutrality lately — a federal court's ruling that stopped broadband providers' effort to hold up new internet freedom rules as well as the FCC's announced $100 million dollar fine of AT&T — we at SkyPlanner want to refresh you on the fight. Here's our original two-part blog series on the subject: what net neutrality is, why both sides love it or hate it, and how it affects your business for better or for worse. 

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Source: huffingtonpost.com
At SkyPlanner, South Florida's Salesforce consulting and customization company, our business relies strongly on the speed with which crucial data can travel from the cloud to our customers. What good is a Salesforce CRM customized to their business needs if the data can't arrive when they need it? Possible scenarios like that are why net neutrality is quite the hot button issue these days. For many the internet is considered the last bastion of the free economy so many attribute to the U.S., and for many it is an important componet of what people call the "open internet", or an internet where third parties do not interfere with how business is conducted. The FCC's own definition of the open internet is as follows:
"The "Open Internet" is the Internet as we know it. It's open because it uses free, publicly available standards that anyone can access and build to, and it treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way. The principle of the Open Internet is sometimes referred to as "net neutrality." Under this principle, consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what lawful content they want to access, create, or share with others. This openness promotes competition and enables investment and innovation.
The Open Internet also makes it possible for anyone, anywhere to easily launch innovative applications and services, revolutionizing the way people communicate, participate, create, and do business—think of email, blogs, voice and video conferencing, streaming video, and online shopping. Once you're online, you don't have to ask permission or pay tolls to broadband providers to reach others on the network. If you develop an innovative new website, you don't have to get permission to share it with the world."
In summation, net neutrality means that everything that is put up on the World Wide Web gets the same treatment from service providers no matter its origin. Online content from a small start-up gets from point A to point B with the same speed as content from giant corporations like Google or Yahoo!. Net neutrality lays out a level playing field that is not necessarily present in the physical business world and lets fledgling companies challenge established ones for customers. But big internet service providers are trying to change that following the huge increase in popularity of streaming services like Netflix.


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Credit: innlink.com

Some service providers like Verizon and Comcast have spent millions lobbying Congress for the right to create a tier-system in which they charge companies for higher bandwidth speeds while non-payers are possibly subjected to throttling. That would become a huge roadblock for small companies to get their content to current or potential customers as the costs to be on the faster tier will likely range in the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.


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Source: Mother Jones


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Source: Mother Jones
Below is a great video from comedian John Oliver's HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. While it is a political satire segment it provides a very succinct explanation of the issue.





Source: SkyPlanner
Net neutrality supporters cite the recent skirmish between Netflix and Comcast as proof positive of the dangers of the proposed system. During negotiations Comcast throttled Netflix's bandwidth. That in turn caused Netflix subscribers to complain to the company about long download times and low picture quality. After the two companies came to terms Netflix's download speeds returned to normal. The communications giant flexed its muscle and showed just how it could force content providers to submit to any payment plans. If ISPs can hold a company like Netflix hostage then much smaller companies stand little to no chance.

Conversely, those in favor of a tier-system see the issue as an extension of common practices in the realm of communications. They believe charging companies for differing internet speeds is comparable to the cable television business model. They also argue that net neutrality will also stymie innovation if companies foresee no reward for investing in research and development of new technologies. Finally, critics of net neutrality believe that the free market will control prices and any intervention by the U.S. government is price regulation. Arguments can be made that price regulation is an early step towards government control of the internet leading to eventual censorship, and history shows that that is never a good thing.

While both sides offer good talking-points it should be noted that some companies like Google and Netflix that would seem to benefit greatly from a tiered-system have actually expressed their support of net neutrality. Regardless of your stance we encourage you to stay on top of the issue. We will be doing so at SkyPlanner as we see how any changes will affect our Salesforce CRM customers in Miami and the rest of South Florida.

Sources:
1. Leung, Stuart. "What Is Net Neutrality? What Businesses Need to Know." Blog. Salesforce.com, 22 July 2014. Web. 22 July 2014.
2. Litan, Robert E., and Hal J. Singer. "Why Business Should Oppose Net Neutrality." Harvard Business Review. Harvard Business Review, 13 Aug. 2010. Web. 22 July 2014.