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Jason Ogaard: Treating your online services equally

When I pay my Internet bill I am paying my Internet service provider (ISP) for access to the Internet at a certain speed.

Sometimes there are other things included in my bill such as equipment but those things usually only add a few dollars to the bill.

Almost the entire bill is for the privilege to browse the Internet.

Website operators also have to pay an internet bill. Websites have to serve the Web page that you are visiting.

Every time you visit a webpage it costs the operator money.

The bill that operator is paying is for the privilege to serve that website.

The more people that visit the website the more money the operator has to pay every month.

Essentially, there are two costs involved every time you visit a web page, the cost you pay to your ISP to go on the Internet and the cost the website operator pays so that their webpage can be viewed by people. This is a pretty good system and most of us would like for it to stay that way.

During the last decade or so, our ISPs have been attempting to change that model.

Here is an example. Comcast owns xfinity. Xfinity is a web-based TV service that you can use for free if you are paying for Comcast cable TV.

That means that most of the shows you can watch on TV you can also watch on your computer.

Here is Comcast’s issue. There are many people that choose to only purchase Internet from Comcast and then choose to subscribe to services such as Netflix and Hulu to watch their favorite movies and television shows. When people do this, Comcast loses out on the money these customers would’ve spent on cable TV.

If they wanted to, Comcast could make Netflix and Hulu too slow to use while keeping their own xfinity service at high speeds.

Doing this would cause people to have a bad experience with Netflix and Hulu making them more likely to pay for cable TV packages from Comcast.

Comcast could then extend this thinking to all websites and charge the website operators a premium for their content to load fast.

Comcast could go to Facebook or Google and tell them that they need to pay extra or else their sites will load more slowly. Every ISP would eventually do this and then we would be stuck with website operators having to pay extra every month to every ISP in the country. Comcast could charge you extra, too. If you want to load faster you have to pay extra for it. Since you usually have only one or (if you’re lucky) two choices for an ISP it’s not possible to switch to a provider that isn’t charging extra.

This is where the term ‘net neutrality’ comes in. Net neutrality means that ISPs have to treat every service that goes on their lines equally. In 2010, the FCC adopted an “Open Internet” rule to ensure that different websites are not discriminated against. Recently, Verizon has sued to challenge that ruling stating that the FCC does not have that kind of power. If they win, it would be up to Congress to draft a law that would ensure net neutrality. Let’s hope Verizon loses.

JASON OGAARD was born in Bemidji and is a software engineer for FICO, a Minneapolis based public company providing analytics and decision-making services, including credit scoring credit bureaus.