Internet service providers

The decision by the FCC to protect net neutrality has repercussions that extend beyond preventing Internet Service providers from “throttling” service and creating “fast lanes.” Designating the Internet as a utility is an important moment for our society. 

The Internet, now protected under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, is more equal in both accessibility and function. As previously mentioned in a column by Jazmyn Griffin, a level playing field is essential for entrepreneurship.  Access to quality Internet service has allowed the tech industry to flourish and has been integral to the software industry’s incredible ingenuity. This is especially relevant to Austin’s status as one of the top cities in the tech industry for business development. Without equal access to equal Internet service, startup tech companies would not have the exposure or the capability to compete and grow.  

One of the great characteristics of the Internet is its democratic nature. Opponents to net neutrality, like Verizon, sought to create a class system by creating a privileged Internet service.  

How many of us would be able to afford premium Internet? If college students were not able to afford Internet in the fast lane, Facebook may not have “gone viral” and become the global phenomenon it is today. Apps for both business and pleasure would be prevented from accessing the market. Much of the tech industry’s success is the instant access and availability of the product.  

Many Austinites were excited when Google announced that Austin would be receiving the new Google Fiber Internet service. However, installation has been slow.  

Previously, AT&T refused to let Google use its telephone poles and other infrastructure already in place. Google was not considered by law as a “telecommunications provider” and thus was forced to construct its own infrastructure or pay AT&T.  

This policy prevented increased competition in the Austin area and may have doomed the effort if the company were smaller than Google. Now that the Internet is legally a utility, Google and other Internet service providers can compete using the infrastructure in place and more easily move into new markets. The market is more competitive, which promotes efficiency and quality service. 

Declaring the Internet as a utility fits within a larger historical context. Universal utility services help define us as a civilization. At the moment net neutrality appears to stand out as a singular movement of the new millennium. 

However, this decision can be compared to past resolutions, which implemented telephone, water and electric services. Today we consider these services to be basic necessities because of their previous designation as public utilities. The omnipresence of these services is part of what makes the average American quality of life one of the best in the world.  

And there is a reason that certain services have been established as public utilities. There is an underlying principle that empowering our society as a whole is beneficial.  

The electric service industry may not operate at the highest profitability possible. But that isn’t the point. While the free market is certainly an important part of our nation and culture, it has its drawbacks in certain areas.  

What if other utility services operated based on the will of the market? What if electric companies provided stable electricity service to those who could afford it, and rolling blackouts plagued poor and rural communities?  

What if the safer potable tap water cost extra to come out of the faucet? What if it wasn’t guaranteed that your toilets would flush unless you paid for premium sewage service?  

These scenarios could be more profitable, and the majority of Americans would probably be able to afford it. But we have decided that together we are stronger when these and other services are extended to the public, extended to everyone.  

Defining the Internet as a utility makes it a right and not a privilege. We have the right not to use the service, and we have the right to pay for as much of it as we would like, but we also have the right to the product free from discrimination. We are going to contribute for our collective benefit. 

America stands for more than profit and individual freedom. As a society we succeed when opportunity is maximized, and when the fortunate invest in those with less than. 

Most interpretations of the American dream are based on equal opportunity. As a society we have decided that the quality of essential services should not be reduced based on privilege. The less fortunate must work hard to make a better life for themselves, but in the 21st century, the ability to work hard would be obstructed by life in the slow lane.

Burchard is a Plan II and international relations and global studies senior from Houston. Follow Burchard on Twitter @nathburch.

WASHINGTON — Internet users who illegally share music, movies or television shows online could soon receive warning notices from the nation’s five major Internet service providers.

The Copyright Alert System, organized by the recording and film industry, is being activated this week to target consumers using peer-to-peer software.

Under the new system, complaints will prompt an Internet service provider — such as Verizon or AT&T — to notify a customer whose Internet address has been detected sharing files illegally. A person will be given up to six opportunities to stop before the Internet provider will take more drastic steps, such as temporarily slowing their connection, or redirecting Internet traffic until they acknowledge they received a notice or review educational materials about copyright law.

LONDON — Britain’s High Court has ordered the country’s Internet service providers to block file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, the U.K.’s main music industry association said Monday.

A High Court judge told Sky, Everything Everywhere, TalkTalk, O2 and Virgin Media on Friday to prevent access to the Swedish site, which helps millions of people download copyrighted music, movies and computer games.

Music industry group BPI welcomed the order by justice Richard Arnold that the service providers block the site within the next few weeks.

BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said sites like The Pirate Bay “destroy jobs in the U.K. and undermine investment in new British artists.”

The service providers said they would comply with the order. A sixth provider, BT, has been given several weeks to consider its position, but BPI said it expected BT would also block the website.

Providers who refuse could find themselves in breach of a court order, which can carry a large fine or jail time.

Monday’s announcement follows a February ruling by the same judge that the operators and users of The Pirate Bay have “a common design to infringe” the copyright of music companies.

The Pirate Bay has been a thorn in the side of the entertainment industry for years. In 2010, a Swedish appeals court upheld the copyright infringement convictions of three men behind the site, but it remains in operation.

The website, which has more than 20 million users around the world, does not host copyright-protected material itself, but provides a forum for its users to download content through so-called torrent files. The technology allows users to transfer parts of a large file from several different users, increasing download speeds.

Defenders of such sites say old creative industry business models have been overtaken by technology that allows music, movies and games to be acquired at the touch of a finger on computers, tablets, phones and other devices.

Both O2 and Virgin said banning orders against copyright-breaching sites had to be accompanied by other measures that reflected consumers’ behavior.

O2 said in a statement that “music rights holders should continue to develop new online business models to give consumers the content they want, how they want it, for a fair price.”

Printed on Tuesday, May 1st, 2012: The Pirate Bay banned in Britain over 'common desire' to pirate

Last week, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget took the first steps in keeping the Internet fair and open.

The office finally signed what is commonly known as the net neutrality rules. Net neutrality goes something like this: The Internet is an open medium and you connect to it via Internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T and Verizon.

Net neutrality is the notion that all websites are equal in terms of connection speed and quality and your ISPs are not allowed to discriminate against different kind of content online. For example, net neutrality ensures that a company such as AT&T cannot make your Gmail work more slowly than your Yahoo! Mail just because Yahoo! is an AT&T partner.

Net neutrality has been a hotly debated topic over the past couple of years, and the passage of the regulations will no doubt stoke the flames once again. And while these new guidelines are an important first step toward protecting net neutrality, they do not go far enough.

This ideal has created a level playing field for everyone on the web. Sites including The Daily Texan’s are able to compete with sites such as CNN because both have the same accessibility level. Certain telecommunication companies, however, want to disrupt this equilibrium by becoming gatekeepers of the Internet. They want the authority to decide which websites go fast, slow or won’t go at all. Essentially, these ISPs want to tax the Internet by creating a fast lane for their own web content and those of companies that pay them, while demoting everyone else to the slow lane.

The Federal Communications Commission’s guidelines offer a temporary sigh of relief, as they prohibit ISPs from blocking or impeding web content on their networks. These new rules focus those providing a fixed wire connection.

However, they do not apply to wireless providers, who can monitor various traffic speeds.

With the mass proliferation of smart phones and tablets, wireless devices are growing at a very fast rate and the FCC must expand its ruling to ensure that content accessed wirelessly are not regulated in any manner.

And don’t expect opponents of net neutrality to go away without a fight. The FCC ruling was passed three-to-two, entirely along party lines with the three Democratic commissioners for the new rules and the two Republican commissioners against them. Companies such as Verizon and Metro PCS are expected to challenge the legality of these soon-to-be laws with aid from lawmakers. These opponents argue that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate the Internet and that the new regulations will hurt consumers.

These arguments are flawed on many fronts. The FCC’s goal is to ensure that the Internet remains open and that companies should not be allowed to upset that balance.

While Republican lawmakers want to keep government out of regulating the Internet, passing the reins to companies and allowing their regulations to kick in would clearly hurt consumers. It would force us to partake in a pay-per-view version of the Internet as websites would have to charge a fee to stay on the fast lane.

Just imagine doing a research paper without the use of Google or Wikipedia because you cannot access or pay for them. Net neutrality protects students by providing us the freedom of choice. Because everything online is equal, we can freely choose between different avenues of entertainment or academic related activities. The loss of net neutrality would severely damage our ability to expand our knowledge.

Net neutrality ensures that innovation on the Internet can continue because the next big thing will be accessible by anyone, anywhere. Corporations won’t be able to simply push their way to a top spot on the web simply by paying large sums of money.

The beauty of a free-flowing Internet governed by net neutrality is that it empowers the individual. Anyone with an Internet connection has the ability to access huge troves of digital knowledge for personal uses.

Internet service providers’ jobs are to move data, not to filter it.


Shi is an electrical and computer engineering junior.