Sundays are devoted to Netflix, right? It’s your time to commune with the streaming Gods and worship at the alter of the slowly spinning circle. So by Monday morning, there’s a good chance that your social media accounts are filled with shouty-caps yelling about your alter and the number of times your Netflix refused to load. Guess what? You’re probably blaming the wrong company.
Sure sometimes Netflix legitimately messes up and is super slow, but for the most part, the amount of quality time you spend with the spinning circle of frustration is actually dependent on the company you (or your neighbor with the open wifi) shell out hard-earned money to every month. Most likely, you contract with Time Warner, Comcast, Vox, Optimum, AT&T or Verizon to get your daily internet fix. You contract with them, and only them, because they own the physical tubes and wires that deliver data around your community, and they absolutely will not share those physical methods of delivery with any other company.
Back to your frienemy, the spinning circle! The company you pay for service only guarantees to deliver a certain speed of access on average every month. So while your contract may say 10 mb/s, it really only means that’s the fastest and the slowest speeds are going to average out around that number. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get 10 mb/s all the time. In fact, during peak hours – think primetime TV scheduling – it’s probably going to be incredibly slow because they have to deliver to even more customers than normal.
All this background detail is important because you should know how net neutrality affects how quickly you can watch the Supernatural premiere or know what happened on last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the governing body in the US that tells companies like Time Warner, Comcast and their pals what they can and cannot do in relation to serving their customers. Right now, cable providers (which we will soon be calling internet providers seeing as there are actually more subscribers to internet service than cable service) are trying to create “fast lanes” on the internet. That means a company like Netflix could pay a higher fee – which would almost indisputably be rolled over to the customer in the form of higher rates – and they would get access to a fast lane delivering streaming video to you, while other companies who don’t pay the fee would be relegated to regular internet. Do you see the downside?
Basically, Time Warner, Comcast and their friends would control what content you can and cannot see if the FCC signs off on these internet fast-lanes. That control is something that the FCC is actually in place to fight, as fast lanes could effectively give internet providers monopoly-like power – something a lot of us already argue they have, but are shouted down over.
The FCC does want to hear from internet users over this decision. They’re inviting comments on their website, and they want to know why they should or should not rule in favor of the huge corporations — whose lobbyists are spending a lot of money to make sure they do so.
The cable companies are betting that you don’t care enough, that you’re too busy reading about cats doing cute things,and plotting how you’re going to get the optimum space in the virtual waiting room next time Comic-Con tickets go on sale. They’ve buried a lot of these points in legal documents using really big words that are meant to bore and confuse you.
Don’t let them bore and confuse you. Use the internet you already wield like a finely-honed lightsaber and tell the FCC what you think. What begins as access to internet speed could quickly become issues of censorship and denial of vital information about the world. Don’t be confused by all the groups that want you to tell THEM what you think about net neutrality so long as you sign up for their newsletter. Go to the source.
Here is the link you need to know: http://www.fcc.gov/comments
That’s the main portal. Once you’re there, you can look at the top two filings, 14-57 (that’s the complaint one against Time Warner, Comcast and their friends) and 14-28 (that’s the one promoting free and open internet). When you click on their numbers, it will take you to a page where you – YES YOU! – can leave a comment for the FCC saying why you care about these two filings.
A lot of people are doing it but there needs to be more. Yes, when you go leave a comment, you do have to give your real name and address. Your name and comment will be listed publicly on their site (but not your address). Embrace identification in this case to protect your future anonymity on the web. Spread the word. Tell your friends on the internet and IRL so that they too can have a say.
Then get back to your Netflix. Seriously, it misses you.