The Daily Gamecock

Column: Online freedom necessary

This past week President Barack Obama spoke out regarding the issue of net neutrality, the idea that Internet service providers should not discriminate data on the web by user, platform, site, content and so on. In a two-minute statement, Obama came out in support of keeping use of the Internet equal, calling the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a public utility — protecting the use of the Internet as an essential service. Doing so would allow the FCC to prevent price throttling, slow service and blocking of certain websites.

The biggest critics of Obama’s plan claim it will turn the Internet over to government control, allowing them to regulate the service and set prices. That simply isn’t true, as Obama clearly says in his statement. The ultimate goal is not for the government to regulate the Internet or set prices; it’s to prevent ISPs from throttled consumers and setting up “fast lanes.” These fast lanes provide faster service to consumers who pay more for their product.

Imagine the Internet as a highway, where our cars are web users and the road is the network through which we travel. This is how the Internet stands as of now. You can drive wherever you want on the road, granted a section isn’t shut down or occupied. Now imagine the road was changed so that there were “fast lanes,” and you had to pay a fee to be able to drive on them. Imagine only certain types of cars were allowed on the road altogether, unless you paid a toll to allow yourself access to only the slower lanes.

This is what we could be facing down the road. If ISPs are allowed to impose their will on consumers we will be forced to pay for the high speed connection many of us already have. The prime example is the situation between Comcast and Netflix. Netflix had been using Cogent, a third party transit company, to deliver Netflix traffic to Comcast subscribers.  As the traffic began to increase, Comcast refused to open up more uncongested routes, resulting in delayed performance for Netflix consumers. Comcast forced Netflix to come to a data agreement involving a large fee, as it was either come to terms or continue to deliver lagged performance to Comcast subscribers trying to use Netflix.

This isn’t just extortion, it’s downright bullying. We need to have a plan in place to protect consumers from ISPs looking to control the sector. With the plan proposed by Obama, the FCC would be able to have a hand over the Internet, preventing Internet providers from hiking up prices and deciding which websites you can access. The Internet has become a vital tool for our communication and business needs, and we should not have to live in fear of a monopolized ISP sector. Obama is merely suggesting that the FCC oversee the sector to help us to maintain use of what has become an essential part of our everyday lives.