Rural areas should keep eye on net neutrality

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Did Native Americans argue about who got the best smoke signals?

Some of them attacked encroaching Europeans building a better system, a telegraph line alongside the tracks used by the Iron Horse.

Businesses and individuals who sent messages via the telegram were supposed to get equal treatment, whether it was birthday greetings for one of the Rockefellers or word of the sinking of the Titanic.

Regulators transferred the same principle to the telephone when it came along, designating phone and telegraph lines as "common carriers" similar to public utilities and are forbidden to give preferential treatment.

Back in the late 1960s, someone thought about connecting computers via telephone lines, and what had been the exclusive domain of the military and scientific community was opened up to commercial use in the late 1980s.

The Internet remained a novelty until lower costs, higher capabilities and widespread availability made it almost a given for American households.

Along came Netflix, which decided there was a better way to distribute movies than by mailing DVDs, but used up a lot of Internet space in the process.

But that was OK under "net neutrality," which forced Internet service providers to treat Netflix the same way it treats Facebook posts, tweets and emails from your sister.

Internet providers say Netflix slows down their networks, which is what causes movies to sometimes lag. With extra fees, they argue, the electronic pipeline could be improved for heavy users like Netflix.

Netflix has responded, during slow downloads, by flashing a message "The Verizon network is crowded right now. Adjusting video for smoother playback."

The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly considering a rule that will allow Internet service providers to offer content providers a faster track to send content.

The FCC's website crashed after comedian John Oliver urged viewers of his HBO show to flood it with protests.

The issue could have unintended consequences here in the hinterlands, where customers are relatively few and far between and providing broadband services at all is still an issue in some localities.

Some communities have gotten into the act, stringing fiber-optic lines to every home or setting up city-wide, publicly owned "mesh" networks to provide service for all.

Like everything involved in delivering a product and service, the cost of providing more bandwidth will be passed on to the consumer.

But with more and more of us depending on fast Internet access in our daily lives, even in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas the net neutrality argument bears watching.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: