Telework and network neutrality

There is a major politico-economic tug of war going on these days. It is between those who want the internet to work as it has been for the last few decades and those who want to have the internet provide preferential treatment to certain customers. This may sound like an abstruse issue but it’s not. In particular it  may decrease your ability to telework in the future.

The basic premise of the internet when it was first developed was network neutrality: all users of the internet had the same rights of access as all other users. That’s the way it is today, except in those countries, mostly totalitarian ones, that ration internet access to their own citizens. So you, as an individual, have the same access rights today as does the the Ultramega Corporation.

What might happen if the current efforts by the large telecommunications providers (the telcos) to abolish network neutrality were to succeed? The general arguments are nicely summarized in an article by InfoWorld‘s Paul Venezia titled: Hey Verizon, we’re not as stupid as you think we are. Venezia notes that the main reason the telcos and other major suppliers of content want to alter access rules is . . . good old greed. “They are looking to get paid on both ends of the data delivery chain, and they will play all the games they can to ensure that reality comes to pass.” The “games” referred to by Venezia are such ploys as saying that specialized (exclusive) internet access is needed to protect such services as emergency access by physicians to save critically injured patients, a solution for a nonexistent problem (“Telesurgery data passes through dedicated circuits; it does not commingle with Internet traffic. It would be unconscionable to do it any other way”).

Aside from the details of the arguments for, and counterarguments against, network neutrality, what might happen to certain teleworkers if the telcos — or governments — succeed in partitioning the internet?

Teleworkers whose employers are big organizations might not feel any difference whatsoever. Their employers would have enough clout to ensure that their teleworkers had suitable internet access. But independent teleworkers and teleworkers employed by medium and small businesses might not fare so well. Their access to the internet might be restricted or come at a higher price than that of their larger competitors. The level playing field of the network-neutral internet would become tilted toward the big players. Small businesses, the core of national competitiveness, would be disadvantaged.

Don’t we have enough of that already?

[Full disclosure: I am a Verizon customer who has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get broadband internet service from them.]

Note: On 3 April 2014 the European Union Parliament voted for a law requiring net neutrality, specifically barring telecom operators from charging extra for delivering faster services. Now let’s see if the US can keep up.

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