If you’ve ever felt that your big brother was always getting better birthday presents than you or noticed that the baseball coach always put his son first in the batting order, you know what playing favorites means. Sometimes, it seems like life is a bit more “fair” to some people than others. Unfortunately, playing favorites is a part of life. It happens in your family. It happens at work. And now it’s happening on the Internet.
Yep, the Internet plays favorites.
The term being bandied about is net neutrality. No, it’s not a fishing system that catches an equal amount of all species of fish. Let me break it down for you.
Let’s say that you order a pair of tennis shoes from Shoe Warehouse. Since you want them fast, you pay an extra $20 for express shipping. Shoe Warehouse packs your shoes and then pays the USPS to deliver them to you. Since you paid the express shipping, the shoes arrive at your house within a day or so.
In this story, the post office is a “neutral” party. This means they don’t have an opinion or judgment about what they are delivering. As long as everyone follows the postal laws and pays the right postage, they will deliver the package. To the USPS, it’s just a package. Shoes, cameras, whatever. Makes no difference to them.
But what if the USPS suddenly decides they don’t like Shoe Warehouse? What if they tell Shoe Warehouse they will now deliver their shoes last? Or, maybe they like Shoes Unlimited better and decide to deliver all of their packages first. In other words, the USPS no longer considers every package as equal. They are now playing favorites. They are no longer neutral. Luckily for us, this hasn’t happened to our postal service. This has, however, happened on the Internet.
The Internet used to be a neutral place — there was net neutrality, but not anymore.
In 2010, the FCC ordered the Internet Service Providers such as Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and Comcast to keep the Internet neutral. But on May 15, 2014 the courts said the FCC didn’t have the power to create or enforce that rule. As a result, Internet Service Providers can monitor the Internet and decide which information gets delivered and how fast it gets delivered. Quite simply, they now play favorites.
For the consumer, the Internet is now a bit like the Wild West. The absence of net neutrality is too new to accurately predict what’s going to happen. Perhaps, one of them may allow HBO movies to stream faster than Netflix movies. Or (less likely) maybe you’ll only be able to shop at online stores that have a relationship with your Internet Service Provider. As the magic eight ball says, “Cannot predict now.” But keep an eye on the news: Net neutrality (or the lack of it) will start to shape the Internet in the near future.
Image credit: Jonathan Grossman