Net neutrality is a big issue for today’s web users and it is under attack. Find out what you need to know, and how these issues affect you.
Why Is Net Neutrality An Issue, Because It Affects Us All
Net neutrality is a subject that affects each and every one of us very deeply. Even if you don’t use the Internet it is a safe bet to say that most of the people you know, and the business you interact with, all do, and in the end, you’re reading this article so you are at least savvy to the Internet at a basic level. What makes it such a hard topic to discuss is that most people don’t even know what it is, much less how it’s being attacked and what it means for your use of the Internet.
Net neutrality is a concept born from the principle of the “common carrier” as it pertains to the telephone industry. A common carrier is a regulated organization or business transporting goods or people, in this case phone transmissions, for anyone without regard. It assumes that everyone should have equal access to phone lines provided you are able to pay for service which, in effect, socialized the phone lines. Net neutrality takes that concept into the 21st century and applies it to data.
Simply stated, all data crossing the Internet should be regarded equally by the Internet Service Providers and government regulators without regard to its creator, user, content, platform, application, type or mode of communication. This means that all users should have equal access and specifically be charged the same fees for connection, and have that connection be free and unhindered, regardless of how you use the net.
The concept had been around for many years but came to a head in 2008. This is when Comcast was accused of using packet shaping to intentionally limit the flow of traffic for users of BitTorrent protocols. BitTorrent, if you are not aware, is a very popular person to person file sharing service that allows the transfer of all forms of digital content including bandwidth consuming music and video. The results of the complaint are mixed, Comcast was held accountable but admitted no wrong, and have led to a decade of debate that is yet ongoing.
There are two sides to the argument and they are just about split evenly between those who use the Internet and those who provide it. Those who provide just scored a win with President Trump’s repeal of Obama era privacy rules which would have required your ISP to get your permission before using your web-browsing history to profile you for advertising.
Some Pros And Cons For Net Neutrality
Because it has become such an issue many governments, including the US, have chosen to regulate the Internet as a public utility. This allows them to put limits on providers and the services they are allowed to provide. The problem arises when you consider the fact that not all people and business use the Internet in the same ways, they don’t all transfer the same amount of data and they don’t all impact other people use of the web in the same ways. Take for instance Netflix, a high profile case in the fight over net neutralty. The company is undoubtedly one of the largest users of bandwidth in the world. The company supports the largest online library of streaming media and is used by more people than almost any other app available today.
In order to control the flow of traffic on their systems ISP’s, Internet Service Providers, have in the past and today used a number of different tactics to curb it. For Netflix and its users this means slower download speeds, buffering and lost connections. Net neutrality, complete neutrality, would mean that the ISP’ would not be able to curb the flow of data and your movies would stream buffer free. Or would they.
One of the reasons why an ISP would want to curb the flow of traffic is to keep their systems from crashing. The flow of data across an ISP is not static, it varies throughout the day and from day to day. There is more traffic of one kind in the morning when people are waking up, that changes as the work day begins, and then changes again as people get home and move on the evenings entertainment. Some periods of the day experience low traffic and fast connection speeds, some parts of the day experience higher traffic and slower connection speeds. If the traffic becomes too heavy it may slow down service for the entire ISP (and create long buffer times for streaming media), or it may cause the system to crash and interrupt service for millions.
Another problem, and this one from the viewpoint of the consumer, is that ISPs could charge more for better/different services if there were no net neutrality. Discriminatory pricing practices are thought to go against the very nature of the Internet, which is considered by many to be a public resource even though the infrastructure that makes it work is primarily private sector.
- A point of contention is that the Internet infrastructure we have today is not sufficient to handle the amount of traffic potential inherent in global society. The ISPs say they need curbs on net neutrality so they can control the infrastructure there is and protect it from overload, as well as having the right to provide premium service for a premium price. The consumer side says the answer is to build more infrastructures in order to guarantee free and easy access for all who want it.
How net neutrality affects businesses is far different than for the consumer. Sure, the web-based business is still using the Internet in those same ways but their use goes far beyond emails and paying bills. Web based businesses generate their revenue from Internet traffic. Slow download speeds and impediments to the Internet cost them money because web-users are more likely to click out to a different page than to wait for one to load. Web metrics site Kissmetrics says that nearly 50% of all Internet users expect their pages to load in 2 seconds or less and a mere 1 second lad in loading time will increase bounce rates by 7% or more so any delay caused by an ISP is of utmost concern for any web based business.
How Net Neutrality Is Under Threat
- Data Caps
Data caps limit the amount of data you are allowed to transfer in a set period. This means that once you reach your limit, regardless of your connection speed, you are cut off. In some cases you may be allowed to go over at which point you will be charged additional fees. In other cases, you may be asked to upgrade to a service with a higher cap. Data caps are especially popular among mobile providers although in recent months there as been a move to offer more comprehensive unlimited-data plans.
Bandwidth throttling is the active practice of slowing connections speeds for individuals, businesses or types, regardless of how much data you stream. This can be done in a number of ways but results in the same thing every time, poor service, long buffering times and lost connections. The ISP may slow speeds across the entire network in order to prevent overloads or to an individual in order to induce upgrading to premium services. Throttling typically targets high-bandwidth users such as streaming video, games and file-sharing services.
- Packet Shaping
Packet shaping, also referred to as traffic shaping, is a method of throttling that specifically targets a type of data instead of a person or business. The ISP’s use a system that requires incoming and outgoing traffic to authenticate and then conform to a data packet profile or be slowed further or blocked entirely. This means that the ISP’s could target all streaming movies instead of just one provider and would generally cause all incoming traffic to slow.
- IP Discrimination
ISPs could choose to block or slow traffic from one IP address and not another. If one is causing a drain on system resources the may be charged by the ISP in order to keep traffic flowing.
VPN For Net Neutrality And Neutralize The ISPs
Proponents of neutrality want to treat cable companies as common carriers and open free access to the cable lines to all ISPs. This would give the FCC to enforce common carrier rules, as they do with dial-up services, and help ensure the cable companies could not interfere with the flow of Internet traffic without a court order. Of course, there is a way to ensure neutrality on your own and, if everyone did the same thing, would create the free and Open Internet net neutrality is intended to create. VPN.
VPN, virtual private network, is a form of Internet security with a host of unintended benefits. One of them is the ability to impose neutrality on any connection. Imagine if you will a giant water pipe taking water to the biggest city on earth, maybe New York or London or Hong Kong. The pipe is the ISP and the water is all the traffic flowing through it. As the water passes from one end of the connection to the other it passes through ISP way-stations that have the power to throttle connections or capped flow.
Now imagine a straw. An incredibly long straw that begins outside the city at your house and ends inside the city at your bank, or a store, or a streaming media service. The straw not only connects you to your end-point, it also endows a few protections. It provides a bit of invisibility, people can see that there is a straw, it’s almost an illusion, like a rainbow, something you can see but can’t touch. Now imagine that straw is inside the pipe and you get the idea of what VPN can do for Internet users.
The technology is not new, far from it, but is likely the next big wave in personal Internet protection. To put it in perspective, VPN was created with a blend of government and private sector research to ensure secure, untraceable and unreadable data transfer across a public connection, what we call web browsing. What it does is use the ISP as a stepping stone to Internet, bypassing it’s servers in a digital tunnel, and connects to a designated VPN server of your choice.
The secure connection is accomplished in a number of ways. The basic form will take your data packets and re-encapsulate them with new authentication markers. This makes it so that any prying eyes will see only a random, anonymous, IP address. The new packets are sent through the tunnel to the VPN server in a way that allows them to know a connection is there, but does not give them any indication of which IP address in their network is making it. When the data packets reach the VPN server they are authenticated and sent on to their destination with a new IP address. The new IP address is assigned by the VPN server and gives an identity in the country in which that server is located, further enabling a safe web browsing. Now add in differing levels of encryption to ensure that any loss of data that may occur, which is highly unlikely, and the power of more advanced VPN protocols becomes clear.
In terms of net neutrality, the benefit of VPN is this. The ISP can see that there is a connection but they don’t know where it comes from other than from one of their subscribers, and they don’t know where it goes or who it is either. This means that they cannot cap your data usage, they cannot throttle your connection speed and they cannot strong arm consumers or business for premium services. If all Internet users were to connect with VPNs it would make the debate over net neutrality obsolete. All users would be the same vanilla connection, there would be no way to differentiate for throttling, or even the capacity.
There are more benefits than mere net neutrality. First and foremost is security. The technology was created as a means of securing the most sensitive government and corporate information and remains the leading method protecting data transfers today. After that are unintended consequences like IP masking and geo-targeting. The process of sending your data gives you a new IP address in a country of your choice which allows you to avoid pesky geo-restrictions and view your favorite TV shows from around the world. The inverse of that is that people viewing the connection will not know where you are so if someone were to try tracing you back to your location they will be stymied at the VPN server.
Le VPN has long been a leader in VPN technology. They support 3 protocols and a hybrid solution for the fastest streaming media. They have servers in more than 114 countries worldwide to provide you IP addresses just about anywhere you want. Protocols include the basic PPTP, a move advanced L2TP and the most advance OpenVPN. PPTP is the point-to-point tunneling protocol, good for general web browsing with limited transfer of sensitive data. The L2TP is Level 2 Tunneling Protocol and adds encryption to the already secured connection. This is good for visiting your banks website or cyber shopping. The Open VPN is the highest level with the best encryption, good for the most sensitive material. The HybridVPN combines VPN with SmartDNS.
The way it works is simple and costs as little as $4.95 per month. A single Le VPN account enables an unlimited number of devices to download the software, and for two to connect at any one time. All protocols are available with an unlimited amount of data and no bandwidth throttling. The software works for PC, Mac, Android and iOS, and other operating systems, and can even be used on a router. A VPN enabled router is the way to go for today’s smart-homes and businesses. A single Le VPN account will allow the router to connect to the Internet so that any device connecting through it is automatically connecting with VPN.
Is net neutrality a good idea? It’s up to you decide for yourself – but it’s important to understand the impact it has and what you would lose if it were taken away. While it is unclear how it will play out in the end it is likely we will see some form of compromise between the two sides. If the ISPs want to charge different prices then they need to step up their game and build up the Internet infrastructure to support it. If the consumers of the Internet want full neutrality then they need to accept some of the responsibility for its build up and maintenance. If you want to ensure you have the most neutralized connection possibly you need to get a top-rated VPN, Le VPN is the answer.