Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates]

Ryan Dube 25-02-2014

Imagine a world where the content you view on the Internet is tightly controlled by your Internet service provider. What would you say if I told you that world is now a reality?


Case in point — in January of 2014, a U.S. Federal Court rejected FCC “net-neutrality No Net Neutrality, Winamp Lives, Kanye Kills Coinye [Tech News Digest] Net neutrality suffers loss, Winamp lives for another day, Beats Music launch due, Tumblr Mention alerts, Kanye West kills Coinye, a man dies trying to save his phone, and the Internet names a baby. Read More ” regulations, which would enforce rules requiring Internet service providers to enable access to all online content and applications regardless of the information or the source. Favoring, blocking or manipulating service quality for particular services or content would be prohibited.

While the United States does not create the rules for Internet access across the entire world, it does often influence how rules are implemented elsewhere. The headquarters of most major online services are in the United States. This could mean that ISPs influencing content delivery of information could affect the rest of the world as well.

The question everyone is asking right now is whether the lack of regulation is going to lead to ISP’s like Verizon immediately implementing service controls that negatively influence the quality of services like Netflix or Hulu, in favor of the digital streaming services offered by the ISP or its partners? Will the Internet service companies increase profits by demanding those companies pay them “service delivery” fees? Will Internet users like you and I have to start paying higher fees for access to those services?

These are the questions we’re exploring in today’s MUO Debates forum. Please check out how MUO authors feel this will change online freedom to information, and then offer your own opinion in the comments area. Don’t forget to cast your vote at the end of this debate as well!

George Root – Google, Amazon and Others Will Fight Back

Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] 3acd7dded95c24f525b44decaae1cd31 s 300I think that providers such as Verizon completely underestimate the financial strength of Google, Amazon, and other large websites. It may be more beneficial for Google to expand its current provider network than pay Verizon more money to do something that should be free.


It seems that many of the larger ISPs are also cable television providers who are used to regulating the kind of content that people can see on their televisions. In that respect, cable television providers are a lot like the music industry in that neither is able to accept the fact that they have to evolve to survive the changes the Internet brings, instead of trying to alter the Internet to their liking.

Of course, the fear is that Google starts its own ISP and suddenly websites start paying a premium to get seen on the larger Google network, but that already happens now to an extent. If I wanted my website to be seen by millions of users everyday, I could pay Google a ton of money and my website would have traffic. But it is that organic piece of web traffic growth that allows content to bring in traffic over time, which keeps people going.

In the end, I think that issues like this are resolved by the undying notion that the Internet should be a level playing field for everyone. If Verizon tries to squeeze websites to be seen on the larger network, then another Internet network will pop up that does not charge that premium. Greed will only take a company so far. After all, these are techies that Verizon is messing with and the techies always know a way around everything.

Ryan – Cable Company Tactics Are The Problem

Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] e14c89a00e4060466a6646bdefa70655 s 300One of my biggest concerns with Net Neutrality (or lack thereof) is that the Internet will become just like cable television. In fact, it may well be the existence of the cable company fiefdoms in most local areas that leads to the problems from a lack of Net Neutrality.


What if your ISP decides that it wants to impede your video stream from Netflix, while providing a full, open bandwidth to its own competing video streaming features? Netflix has publicly stated that it fears this. What can you do? Switch your ISP? Many people don’t have a choice because, again, the same cable companies control the system. If you’re lucky, you may be able to switch to a DSL phone-based service — but again, that ISP could now take the same bandwidth-throttling tactics as well.

The danger isn’t so much that the cable company will try to filter or control specific content through pricing like it does with its existing programming. The danger is that it will try to sway the trend of customers downgrading cable packages and migrating over to Netflix and other video streaming services for content. Now, the cable companies are not legally barred from making the quality of those competing services so horrible that consumers are forced to drudge on back to Momma Cable Company — the borderline-illegal monopoly in nearly every community.

It appears that our one ray of hope for escape from those monopolies — online video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime — is now threatened by the U.S. government’s lack of backbone in properly regulating those major cable/ISP companies.

Bruce Epper – Infrastructure Impedes Competition

George: I think you are avoiding what is probably the biggest issue here.  What happens when the local cable company and/or the local telecom are blocking all streaming video services that are competing with them or rate-limiting them to such an extent that they are effectively unusable?  Now, all broadband providers in the local area will allow you to use their streaming video only.


This happened with Comcast back in 2010 when they were blocking Netflix from their customers by extorting/blackmailing the Netflix partner, Level 3, to pay a recurring fee to allow them to “transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content.”As far as another network popping up to take the place of what is being taken from us, who will install the infrastructure for this?

After all, these telecoms and cable companies currently own the entire “last mile” networks, and with the court ruling regarding the FCC’s net neutrality rules being shot down since they are not considered “common carrier” networks, how do you expect people to be able to connect to the “new Internet” that you believe will spring up to replace what has been lost?

Now, most broadband providers have data caps on their Internet plans.  In March 2012, Comcast announced that customers with the Xfinity app on the XBox who are XBox Live subscribers and have another cable box with Xfinity will not have their streaming video data applied against their cap, yet Netflix and Hulu will still be affected.  This is another area where Verizon’s idea of a “two-sided market” will really benefit the culture of corporate greed: these providers will charge the provider a premium to carry their content to the consumer while charging the consumer a premium to have this content delivered to them unhindered by the carrier’s network.

I’d love to be sitting in a C-level office at any major ISP since this ruling came out.  In the next few years, the bonuses will be astounding.


James Bruce – Net Neutrality Won’t Matter

Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] 47fb6d18442e99dbff2346f24665aa5d s 300I think net neutrality won’t matter in the long run. I mentioned this on the podcast the other day, but Google is going to swing the game right back around with their broadband speed rankings from YouTube play stats. Instead of Google having to pay ISPs to deliver YouTube videos, it’ll be the ISPs paying Google to establish faster backbones to the YouTube servers, thereby ranking themselves higher on the list as the consumer choice. You can bet that when they’re listed lower down, customers switching away from them for higher ranked ISPs will be significant (assuming equal market forces of course, and that there is actually competition).

Of course, this does nothing to help other services like Netflix, but one can imagine a meta ranking site that draws upon speed results from all the popular services. The establishment of no legal net neutrality law will only serve to push these rankings into existence where before they weren’t needed.

Never underestimate the power of a popular ranking list: companies will fall over themselves and throw money at you to get higher on the list.

Guy McDowell – What If ISPs Try Toppling Google?

Is Internet Freedom Under Threat From Internet Service Providers? [MUO Debates] cb0bc34dbe06c8d36de5a5f082f1564a s 300Playing the devil’s advocate, what would happen if the largest ISPs squeeze out Google? Is Google ready to run in and save the day, and save themselves before that could happen? If I were to control a major ISP and your Web usage, I’m also going to control your search engine choices, as well as your streaming media choices.

The major ISPs will recognize that there would be a backlash if they tried to restrict our Internet travels too dramatically, too quickly. Instead, I envision them playing the game the same way they did with cable television. They tried to make us want cable for content that you couldn’t get over-the-air. Many of us, for a long time, had both over-the-air and cable, it was the best of both worlds. The over-the-air networks noticed that we were watching cable more and more, so they wanted to be on cable as well.  Then cable started providing the same content as over-the-air but with better transmission quality, so we stopped buying antennas or TV sets that could tap into the over-the-air signal. Now, we’re stuck with cable. Yes, you can still get over-the-air if you want to go through the hassle of setting that up, but most people simply don’t.

Why wouldn’t they do the same with Internet access? Give us premium content as well as the free stuff, and then gradually the free content is going to want to make the money that the premium content does. Introduce moderate throttling on the free content, so it works, but just not quite as good as the premium. Then the pressure will be from both the content provider and the consumer to have the content in the premium category.

If I were an evil media magnate, that’s what I would do.

I suspect that some people would develop ways around it, or local alternate access means. Smaller ISPs would initially thrive on the fact that they don’t restrict content, but they would eventually be bought out by the large ISPs. Then, in say 10-20 years, we’ll just accept that this is the way things are, and we’ll probably convince ourselves that we like it that way, too!

Justin Pot – This is Already Happening

justin-potTo an extent, Guy, this is already happening. Here in the U.S. you can’t watch any Olympic content online unless you first prove that you are a paying customer of a cable or satellite TV provider (and even if you do, the service is laughable compared to what CBC is offering up in your home and my native land).

The company with broadcasting rights to the games here in the states? NBC, a division of Comcast, a cable company beloved for its customer service reputation. Comcast also limits the bandwidth of its home users, but makes one exception: it’s own streaming service, which is heavy in NBC content.

The cable company owns one of the major broadcasters, and is already now using that fact to its own advantage. And now a legal shackle has been taken away from them.

Competition is all well and good, but effectively doesn’t exist in most of the country. These companies are lobbying state governments to ban municipal broadband, and Google can only lay so much line so quickly. Net neutrality helped make the Internet what it is, and it’s going away. It’s unclear if a startup like YouTube will be able to take the net by storm ten years from now, or if the tiered Internet will make any newcomer so slow as to be useless.

Conclusion – What Do You Think?

Does the lack of regulations requiring fair access to information on the Internet mean the death of Internet freedom The Internet Isn't Really Free - Who Is Censoring It & Why In any free, democratic society, citizens take pride in the fact that they have free access to information. This is true in many countries, where citizens have won hard-fought battles for independence. It is something... Read More ? Is the Internet now going to be transformed into yet another corporate-run information portal controlled by those with the most money? Or, will none of this matter at all? Will things just stay the same? Cast your vote and then give us your take on the matter in the comments section below!

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  1. Bob Myers
    February 26, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Satellite Internet. It will be expensive at first. With competition and improved technical abilities the cost will come down. As with satellite transmitted telephone and satellite phones, compression techniques and forward error correction will improve with competition. Since it will be radio frequency, the FCC will have some control back. If the ISPs do their throttling thing, they'll go out of business or try to own the satellites. I'm sure they'll try to change the rules. Internet neutrality is one thing I believe the FCC got correct.

    Bob Myers

  2. Michael Dowling
    February 26, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Probably more worrying is the Trans Pacific Trade agreement,being negotiated in secret by the U.S.,Canadian,Mexican and various Pacific Rim countries:

  3. Shade
    February 26, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    What's most ridiculous about Net Neutrality being nixed is that ISPs want to get paid twice for the same traffic. NetFlix and others already pay their ISPs for the bandwidth to send to their users. Users pay their "last mile" ISPs to be able to access the content they want, and ISPs have peering agreements to negotiate trades in web traffic/money. Now ISPs want NetFlix and other companies to pay for the traffic that the ISP customers are already paying for.

    Also, if anyone has any questions about the state of internet access in the vast majority of the US, one need only look at how desperately people want Google Fiber to be deployed in their home town, and that was the case before this newest load of garbage.

  4. A41202813GMAIL
    February 26, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    ( From Another Thread )

    A - Someone Said, I Hate Big Government Monopolies, But I Hate Private Monopolies Even More,

    B - If A Company Provides The Pipes, It Should Not Be Allowed To Provide Content, And ViceVersa.

    All 'Wired' Services Should Be Subjected To Some Kind Of ( B ) Law - Be It, Electricity, Natural Gas, Water, Land Line Phones, Internet, Cable, Whatever.

    Any Company Without A ( B ) Restraint, Will Make A Clown Out Of Most Of Its Subscribers.

    And Do Not Let Me Start About 'Forced' 24 Months ISP Marriages.

  5. Jon Doe
    February 26, 2014 at 10:29 am

    There is such a thing as life without the internet.

    • Trevor
      February 26, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Very true!

  6. Keefe K
    February 26, 2014 at 12:08 am

    I think if they tried this in Canada, then the CRTC (our nation's telecommunications regulator) will get flooded with so many complaints that they'd have to stop the cable companies and ISPs from doing what they want. The fact that this issue is currently a large topic in the US is a good thing for us as well, since it gives us the chance to ask the question "How is our country handling net neutrality?" Because before hand, how many of us actually thought anything about this happening on our own soil? I know I didn't...and now we're all the more wiser should they try it! I wish my American neighbors the best of luck fighting this threat against your freedom!

    • dragonmouth
      February 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      How is CRTC in Canada any different than FCC in the US? Complaints did not work in the US, What makes you so sure they will work In Canada? The people sitting on these commissions can easily be paid to become deaf to complaints.

    • Keefe K
      February 26, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      Well, there are differences between how the two governments work, since we do have a different system set up, and powers within it are divided differently. While I can't say for sure that it'll never happen in Canada, the differences could maybe play out a different result. But then if they do not, and we find the CRTC granting more favor to the telecommunication companies, Canadians will fight back, just like Americans will. The CRTC reports to Canada's parliament, so the issue would become of political debate, in which Canadians then have their channels to their MPs. Only time would be able to tell how that fight would go, but I have faith in my country, and my government that they'll make a decision that I'm satisfied with. I can only wait until such an opportunity arises to fight for net neutrality, and make my voice heard. If they ignore it because their wallets are more important then my freedom, then I continue fighting against their decision afterwards. And I do hope that some Americans feel the same way as I do, since that is how you'll get your net neutrality!

      Also, back in 2012, the CRTC found evidence that Rogers was throttling some of it's internet traffic, in which was a breach of Telecommunications Act. The result was that Rogers announced that it'd stop shaping it's traffic by the end of that year. I'm quite happy that the CRTC had responded to that complaint which they got, and I can only hope they'll keep standing for the consumer in the years to come!

  7. Howard
    February 25, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Net neutrality mandates the communications of ISP's. Do you think the state could mandate your communications too ?

    I'd much rather rely on an open market than a monopoly state that I guess everyone thinks will do the right thing.

  8. Joel L
    February 25, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    It sounds like everyone is on the same page. Net neutrality wouldn't be necessary IF the ISP market was competitive, but it isn't. ISPs have already established their government-supported regional monopolies (at least in the US) and consumers have no way to vote with their wallets, which is why net neutrality is needed.