In September the Federal Communications Commission extended the public discussion period on the controversial Net Neutrality issue, thereby delaying a decision on the topic until after the elections this month.
The issue is one of preferential treatment of data, according to Reuters. Should Verizon, for example, be able to prioritize streaming video from NBC over video for ABC, presumably after NBC pays a premium for such a privilege? Should Web story readers get priority over people downloading files or playing games? Formerly, the FCC had required all data on the Net to be treated equally, no matter how people are using it or what kind of data it is. But last April a judge told the FCC it had no power to do so.
For business people who buy and sell products online, the issue is especially important. Page load times and the delay between clicking "Check Out" and placing an order are important user metrics that affect customer satisfaction. If Apple Computer has priority for its iTunes music store, for example, how will that affect a small business that can't afford to pay for a top-level spot in the traffic queue?
The discussion online, of course, is tremendous, and has taken on a partisan cast. When "Net Neutrality," meaning equal treatment for all data, is described as "Federal regulation," it is often opposed by pundits on the right and Tea Party activists, according to Alex Altman in Time magazine. With more and more people accessing the Internet over smartphones and tablets, the wireless Internet is shaping up to be a huge battlefield. Google and Verizon are working on a controversial agreement to keep Internet traffic over cables and phone wires data-neutral, but to allow wireless carriers to prioritize certain traffic over others, according to AOL's Daily Finance. This marks a turnaround (a "betrayal," or "surrender," say tech pundits on the left) for Google, a company that had previously been a staunch ideological advocate for total Net Neutrality.
The issue remains unresolved. Congress may authorize the FCC to regulate the Internet, possibly with directives on Net Neutrality. The FCC may change the way it classifies broadband traffic in order to exert itself on the issue. With few people neutral on Net Neutrality, the issue is sure to stay in the headlines.
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