On Wednesday, the latest Internet Neutrality proposal from the Federal Communication Commission‘s Chairman Tom Wheeler was released on Wired.com. It states some of the strongest open-Internet protection ever proposed. Wheeler’s Internet Neutrality proposal is a positive step for supporters of Net Neutrality and has a big impact on the future of the open Internet as well as on innovation, startups, and entrepreneurs.
Internet Neutrality (Net Neutrality for short) is a very exciting and sometimes scary conversation. The Internet has made an incredible impact on society as we know it, some say the biggest impact we’ve seen yet. But how would a federal Internet Neutrality proposal and ruling affect the Internet as we know it today?
What is Internet Neutrality?
Let’s start with the basics: Net Neutrality is “the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging deferentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication” (source: Wikipedia).
Sounds like a good idea, right? Internet should be equally available to all without discrimination. Well, this is where it gets tricky. The current debate is about federal law and to what extent it dictates how companies who own the “pipes” of the Internet can treat their customers.
The Internet service provider
As an example, it would be preferable for a company who provides Internet service to treat those who stream Netflix differently than those who do not, as Netflix takes up a large amount of the “pipe.” Internet providers would like to charge Netflix a premium because Netflix within the whole of Internet traffic is at certain times 34% of the downstream usage. This makes it more difficult for the Internet providers to guarantee good service to everyone. It is sometimes in their best interest as a business to discriminate against the types of data that flow through their “pipes”.
The Internet user
The argument from a user’s perspective is that if I pay the same as someone down the road for my Internet services, I shouldn’t be treated any differently. If I want to stream Netflix on my network I pay for I should be able to, right?
It can get even more complicated than this. What if your Internet service provider cut a deal with Netflix to let them use the network (for a price, of course), but wouldn’t allow Hulu on the same network? That severely limits people’s choices and discriminates against the data itself.
Now apply this to something that really affects peoples lives, like access to free and open information like Wikipedia or potentially life-saving health care information via the Internet and you can see how a ruling on this is very important to humanity.
How the Internet Neutrality proposal might affect Fargo and startups
In the end, an open and unbiased Internet is good for people. Business, education, and fun can all happen on the Internet today. Initiatives like the Fargo Startup House, CoCo Fargo and our own offices at Emerging Prairie are made possible by incredible community-minded Internet service providers like 702 Communications. Without an open Internet, the entrepreneurs at Fargo Startup House and many other startups in Fargo wouldn’t have the ability to sustain the levels of efficiency and innovation required to reach success and remain competitive.
If that Internet access discriminated against the type of (legal) content someone uses, this would fundamentally change the way the Internet is used. This could kill competition, and therefore innovation.
I believe all people should support Net Neutrality, whether a user or a service provider, because an open and equal Internet is best for the greater good. And it’s essential for startups. Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Internet Neutrality proposal is a great step towards achieving this.
Jake Joraanstad is co-founder of Emerging Prairie and CEO of Myriad Mobile, one of Fargo’s fastest growing startups. They were featured in Entrepreneur’s Top 30 Startups to watch in 2014. Jake is also a co-founder of Emerging Prairie.
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