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The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is likely regretting its decision to host a 120-day open commenting period on its Protecting and Promoting the... What is Net Neutrality?

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is likely regretting its decision to host a 120-day open commenting period on its Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet proposal, after the website crashed due to heavy traffic as people flocked to share their thoughts. Comedian and host of the HBO show, John Oliver, encouraged viewers on Sunday’s show to share their thoughts with the agency and tell the government what they thought of the plan.

Oliver delivered a scathing 13-minute description of the net neutrality issue, comparing Comcast, the TV and internet provider, to a defence contractor because of the large amount of money it has spent trying to support a tiered internet plan. “We’re still experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system,”the FCC said on Twitter. “Thanks for your patience as we work to resolve the issues.” In the past thirty days over 45,000 comments have been posted about the proposal, with the video of John Oliver’s views being viewed over one million times at the time of writing.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Put simply net neutrality means that all data is treated the same at each stage as it travels across the internet. So it doesn’t matter whether you are emailing your Granny in Australia, Skyping your cousin in Brazil, reading the latest news on TechBeat or downloading a movie from Netflix, all of this traffic is treated in the same way, with no one or nothing being given priority. It is this key principle that both the FCC and Obama’s administration have both taken a stance on but doubt has started to creep in as to whether the FCC really does support net neutrality.

Net neutrality

Why Is It Important?

If net neutrality is abandoned then the big fear is that we will all take a big hit in the pocket, in other words being charged an extra monthly fee to gain access to services and sites. However this idea is the most extreme scenario and one that supporters of net neutrality are keen to keep pointing out. The idea of internet service providers (ISPs) directly charging customers for specific access to sites and services is likely to be stopped by the FCC, even under any new rules that may come in.

How Will It Effect You?

If net neutrality is abandoned then the initial effects may not even be noticed by you, the consumers, with ISPs possibly choosing to offer prime deals to those who use the most bandwidth, like Netflix for example, which at times makes up a third of all internet data usage.  It could seem a good idea to just charge Netflix for priority access, especially if it is using more bandwidth than anyone else using the internet. Yet this is neither fair nor helps new, cheaper companies who could offer a better service because they just wouldn’t be able to compete with larger companies who can afford to shell out large amounts of money to ISPs.

So what the FCC is proposing is that it will use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to assess attempts to prioritise traffic on a case-by-case basis. If an ISP wanted to prioritize a certain type of traffic for commercial reasons (i.e. they want Netflix downloads to have priority for example) they would have to prove that it was commercially reasonable and not damaging to the competition. This is the critics biggest argument that such an important matter is decided upon by a test that is so loosely defined.

What do you think? Do you trust the FCC?

[Image via gigaom]