Net neutrality: 3 examples of why people don't trust the "fast lane"

Daniel Rivero and Fidel Martinez
AFP/Getty Images

Today is the final day for people to submit their comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the agency's proposed net neutrality rules. The FCC's proposal contains two key provisions: 1) Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may not prevent access to or discriminate against certain types of content and websites (sites like the Pirate Bay, a filesharing website, for example), 2) ISPs can create "fast lanes" that will give priority to certain types of traffic.

That second part is what net neutrality activists are worried about. They argue that the proposed reforms will create a scenario where some companies will be forced to pay extra to avoid getting stuck in the slow lane, which is the same as the breakdown lane for digital businesses.


The concerns aren't entirely unjustified. After all, the FCC used to have rules in place that forced the ISPs to treat all traffic equally, but those guidelines were junked last January by the U.S. Court of Appeals in a lawsuit filed by Verizon. Since then, the ISPs have been accused of "throttling traffic" — or, intentionally slowing Internet connectivity speeds. Net neutrality activists think that's just a taste of what's to come if the FCC's proposal passes.

The time Comcast throttled Netflix

See that big bold, black line on that chart? That shows the trajectory of what John Oliver called the "mob shakedown" aspect of a post-net neutrality Internet.

See if you can pinpoint the moment when Netflix agreed to pay Comcast to fully open the spigot of data. In the words of Walter from the Big Lebowski:

"Thaaat's right, Dude. The beauty of this is its simplicity. If the plan gets too complex something always goes wrong. If there's one thing I learned in Nam— "


The time Verizon and Netflix got in a fight over throttling

In June, Netflix started telling its customers that Verizon was to blame for spotty service. Shots fired.


Curiously, this public tiff occurred months after the two companies signed a deal similar to the one hatched previously with Comcast.


Verizon responded to Netflix by throwing some shade of their own. Verizon also sent Netflix a cease-and-desist letter to take down the accusatory messaging.

But wait, there's more. A month after this pissing contest, Colin Nederkoon —a Verizon and Netflix customer— wrote a blog and posted a video that showed Verizon throttling his connection to Netflix. In the video, seen below, Nederkoorn shows Netflix video streaming at 375 kbps (despite paying for service that promises speeds of up to 75Mbps). Nederkoorn then connected to a virtual private network (VPN) and reloaded the Netflix test page. Immediately, his streaming rate shot up to 3,000 kbps, which is 10 times faster.


The time FCC's chairman sent Verizon's throttling practices to hell


Verizon's controversial "network optimization" policy boils down to the following: if you are among the "top 5 percent of data users on unlimited data plans," you might get your connectivity speed slowed during peak hours. But, if you switch from an unlimited plan to a usage-based plan for your home Internet, you can avoid the slowdown. In other words, if you pay to play, you can surf as fast as you want.

Even FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who many consider the nemesis of net neutrality, found this practice troubling. "What is your rationale for treating customers differently based on the type of data plan to which they subscribe?" he asked in a July letter to the company.


Since unlimited plans are no longer offered, ISPs are using "network optimization" to gouge existing customers into paying extra for the same service.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.


Fidel Martinez is an editor at He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.

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