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Gromotka: The end of net neutrality

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | FEBRUARY 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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2014 has already been a big year for the Internet. It’s taken center stage in legal discussion at both the federal and state level. Iowa policymakers have agreed on the importance of allowing more Iowans access to the net, but a battle over the concept of net neutrality may limit the opportunities this initiative creates. In fact, it could ruin Internet use for all Americans.

What, exactly, is “net neutrality?” In a nutshell, it’s the idea that all legal data sent through the Internet should be treated equally. It’s the reason the web has served as such a powerful bastion of opportunity and equality for so many years. With net neutrality, people with initiative and a good idea can start their own websites, and they have an equal chance at sharing their information and creating success through the Internet. This is the reason such companies as Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix have all been long-standing supporters of the idea. Net neutrality gave them the chance to be what they are today. Without it, startups would struggle to get their feet in the door, and the Internet would be a far less interesting and opportune place.

The threat to net neutrality comes from a number of companies that provide Internet to consumers, including Verizon. Rather than define the Internet as a public service, something the Federal Communications Commission did back in 2011, these companies want to monetize the Internet by allocating bandwidth to content producers based on the price they pay. Last month, a federal appeals court sided with these Internet service providers, agreeing that they should be able to handle information used over their servers as private property. We may eventually have to pick our Internet plans based on the websites we use, much like choosing a cable subscription, which would limit the utility of the Internet and, ultimately, ruin the experience. 

So, how does this affect Iowa? As listed in his Condition of the State Address — on the same date that Internet providers won their battle in the appeals court — one of Gov. Terry Branstad’s goals, the goal of many Iowa policymakers is to increase access to the Internet across the state. Currently, Iowa ranks 11th out of 12 Midwestern states when it comes to providing connections. The “Connect Every Iowan” initiative estimates that for every 1 percent of Internet access granted, the state will see an employment growth between 0.2 and 0.3 percent, and it seeks this growth by providing tax incentives to service providers for extending their reach within Iowa. It all sounds great, and I applaud the state, but if the Internet becomes a watered-down, moneymaking machine, the initiative will provide subpar connections for Iowans.

Net neutrality has been an issue for a long time, and we’re probably about to see it out the door. While the FCC can take some steps to limit the progress of greedy service providers, the battle’s likely already lost. What’s humorous is that Verizon made its case against net neutrality by claiming it infringed on the company’s First  Amendment rights, even though a more restricted Internet would do the same to ours as consumers.


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