The Internet, like any network, is like a series of highways connecting virtual cities together. The Internet service providers who run the highways, however, are always on the lookout for more money.
With the incentive for record profits, the ISP Comcast Corp. has started to throttle people who "excessively" download content. In addition, the ISPs Paxfire Inc. and Frontier Communications have begun to hijack search engine queries, only to redirect them to services which pay the respective ISPs per redirected search query. The Internet is losing its freedom and as a result will be a shadow of its past glory. That is, unless the United States adopts net neutrality.
Since the turn of the century, many in the tech industry have begun to wonder whether or not it would be possible for an ISP to tinker with the requests emanating from a user's computer over the Internet. Even more frightening to those at the time was the concept that ISPs could block competitor's products. In addition, it has become common practice to throttle connections that ISPs don't agree with such as peer-to-peer connections.
Not just consumers are concerned: Vinton Cerf, the creator of the underlying Internet protocol and Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, have publicly spoken out against ISP controls on the Internet. In 2006 Cerf said, "Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success."
But what does this mean? How does this affect me? Well, let's use Geneseo's network as an example for your ISP. Let's say that Geneseo finds that it can make $2 million a year by redirecting all traffic meant for Facebook to Google+. Every time that you tried to open Facebook, the only thing you would see is a Google+ login screen. Now apply this to everything. You would no longer have a choice as to what services you use and what forms of entertainment you partake in. Like to play online video games? Well, they require too much bandwidth and don't work. Enjoy reading political blogs? Well, now you can only read those with a liberal agenda.
More importantly, if you want to use a more efficient method of downloading content, such as a peer-to-peer method, then you're out of luck. Actually, that last part is true. The communications company Comcast has been known to throttle the bandwidth for subscribers. In an example closer to home, Geneseo penalizes students for peer-to-peer network connectivity regardless of the network content, working under the assumption that all peer-to-peer is for downloading copyright-infringing content. Admittedly, most peer-to-peer traffic is for illegal pirating, but why should Geneseo use the nuclear option against the protocol as a whole?
Thankfully, there are some in the federal government who have decided to protect users on the Web and since 2009 the Federal Communications Commission has started placing regulations on what ISPs are allowed to do. These rules include disallowing ISPs from blocking competitors' products such as Netflix and Hulu, allowing users unrestricted access to Internet services and the protection of any Internet protocol on networks.
Last week republicans voted to stop proposed net neutrality legislation under the ideas that the government shouldn't interfere with the operating procedures of the multibillion-dollar ISPs. Thankfully for consumers, the vote failed. Hopefully more will find the value in an open Internet and neutrality will remain true.