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Potential road rage in the Internet’s slow lane

By Elissa SalamySPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE

There is nothing this generation hates more than waiting.

For many of us, the screeching sound of the slow dial-up modem is a distant childhood memory. Remember when you had to wait until you got home to look something up online? Now that you can reach almost any piece of information from almost anywhere, the thought of having to wait to access it is a nightmare. Just the sight of the spinning wheel animation used to indicate that a website is loading causes us instant frustration.

You may have seen a few of those on Sept. 10, when several popular websites, including Twitter, Netflix and Reddit, participated in a slow-down to encourage its users to contact government officials concerning net neutrality issues.

Net neutrality is the idea that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. Currently, the Federal Communications Commission is considering a new rule that will permit Internet providers such as Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon to offer websites a faster track to send content to consumers.

In a way, the Internet as it is today is fueled by many of the same concepts as the American Dream, where a lowly start-up has the same opportunity for success as pre-established websites. Myspace, an early Internet success and frontrunner in social media, was beaten out by Facebook, a website created by Harvard coeds in their dorm. But if Myspace was in an Internet “fast lane,” would people have waited a few more seconds for Facebook to load their ex’s profile page? Probably not.

For the cable companies, a ruling to allow an Internet fast lane means a higher profit margin. A decision in favor of the companies would mean the ability to charge companies much higher premiums for access to the highest speeds available.

For Internet users, dividing the Internet into fast and slow broadband lanes is a solution for an Internet that is filled to the brim with information. Substantial amounts of bandwidth are used by websites with lots of pictures, music and video, such as sites like Tumblr and Facebook. The more sites and the more bandwidth used, the slower the Internet could become. However, the answer may not be to give companies the option to pay for an Internet carpool lane.

The U.S. ranks 31st in the world in terms of average download speeds, and that is in part thanks to a lack of competition between Internet providers that are present in other countries.  Cable companies have divided markets to limit competition in order to be able to charge customers high prices, without any incentive to invest in Internet infrastructure that makes the Internet faster. Instead of allowing Internet providers to create fast and slow lanes, we should encourage competition within the cable companies.

The efforts made by Twitter, Netflix, Reddit and others on Sept. 10 to inform Internet users about the issue have been successful, with a surge of protestors sending comments to the FCC. While we wait for the Commission’s decision, we should keep the comments coming.

The views and opinions expressed in the Op-Ed section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors.

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