An Update on Net Neutrality

By Kenneth Sprague | February 3rd, 2016

At about this time last year we wrote an in-depth piece on Net Neutrality, and what it meant for the future of the Internet and personal computing.

As a refresher, the concept of Net Neutrality is, essentially, that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not allowed to slow content coming from certain sources as their customers try to access it. All content must have the ability to flow freely along the Information Superhighway, and if traffic naturally decreases in speed (due to “congestion”) as a result, that’s fine – but things cannot be made intentionally slow or intentionally fast to benefit content providers (such as HBO or YouTube) as the ISP sees fit.

Just over a year later, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is still working with ISPs and mobile carriers to come to terms with what does, and does not, violate Net Neutrality. At present, one of the biggest sticking points is whether or not data caps are exempt from the goals of Net Neutrality. Specifically, can a mobile carrier implement a data cap – and thus throttle, or slow, data speeds – once a customer has used a previously agreed upon and set amount of data.

The largest concern is that mobile carriers and ISPs have begun counting data used by certain apps against the data cap, and allowing other apps be exempt. A prime example is T-Mobile’s Binge On video platform, which allows customers to watch video content that does not count against their data cap. This, of course, increases the likelihood that customers will be using the apps that are championed by their providers to avoid penalties, rather than using apps of their own liking.

Similarly, AT&T’s “Sponsored Data program charges third parties [mainly advertisers] for the right to deliver data without counting against consumers’ mobile data caps.” This means that content from organizations that are willing to pay might be making it through to users more frequently than content from those who are unwilling or unable to pay for it, as the users are not concerned with their data cap when interacting with that advertiser – a seemingly clear violation of Net Neutrality.

There are some, such as Matt Hickey at Forbes (citing a study done by Stanford University), who feel that the actions of T-Mobile and their Binge On platform clearly violate Net Neutrality and are therefore illegal, whereas others (primarily T-Mobile themselves) feel that since Binge On is an option that can be opted in to and turned on or off by the user it is not violating Net Neutrality.


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