The Net Neutrality Debate Hampers High-Speed Internet Progress

Net neutrality is a complicated issue, and also a political one. It’s understandable that we get tired of hearing politicians and lobbyists on each side of the issue seek to use it to their advantage. After a while, it’s easy to get fed up and stop paying attention, because it probably seems as if the debate doesn’t affect us directly—or at least not much. But it does affect us. A lack of resolution to the debate is slowing the building of and preventing increased access to high-speed Internet connections. As users in other countries are set to receive 2 Gbps connections, most of the U.S. is still waiting on 1 Gbps fiber. In Case You Missed It If you’ve ignored the net neutrality debate, it centers on whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be required to treat all data transmitted across the Internet equally. Those against the idea argue that users who take up the most bandwidth – like Netflix – should pay more to transmit data, or have the speed of their data transmissions reduced. People in favor of net neutrality argue that giving Internet providers this power will stifle innovation and in effect extort higher fees from those users with the greatest needs for speed. Think of the Internet like a parking garage. Should the garage be allowed to charge larger vehicles more to park, because they take up more space, or should all vehicles pay the same fee, regardless of size? To continue the metaphor, one of the nation’s largest parking garage operators wants to know which way the issue will be resolved before building newer, better garages. The FCC and AT&T In a meeting with company investors, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson announced the company is pausing investment in fiber network infrastructure, saying, “We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed.” AT&T further claims its proposed merger with DIRECTV would allow it to bring gigabit fiber to two million additional homes. The FCC took notice of this statement, and, because there’s nothing quite so official as sending an actual letter, has sent a letter to AT&T asking for details on the company’s plans for future fiber networks. In essence, the FCC thinks AT&T is bluffing and is asking the company to prove its statement is more than politics. No Answer Is the Worst Answer Without taking a side in the net neutrality debate, it does seem likely that all companies investing in fiber networks will want to know how the debate will end before committing their resources. In any industry, businesses and investors hate uncertainty. Even if the debate doesn’t end the way Internet providers want it to, there’s no question that, at some point, they’ll resume investment in fiber. So the longer the debate drags on, the longer it will take for communications companies to put their future plans in motion. Not having an answer isn’t just bad for investors; it’s bad for consumers. While the arguments continue, the U.S. ranks 11th worldwide in average Internet connection speeds, behind Latvia and the Czech Republic. If you’re tired of waiting for someone else to sort out the issue so you can improve your online experience, do something about it yourself. Enter your zip code below to see the available plans in your area that could give you a quick speed boost. Image by Michael Coghlan/Flickr [zipfinder]

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Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.

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