One of the most unfortunate misnomers of The Cloud as a metaphor for describing an increasingly networked society is not only that it perpetuates a fiction of an intangible system—but also a fiction that everyone experiences that system in the same way.
The ubiquity of The Cloud in daily life is in large part due to the ubiquity of networked devices in everyday life. According to research by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of all Americans own smartphones. Although cables are still the foundational backbone of the network, more and more U.S. connectivity happens wirelessly, across cell networks run by mobile carriers.
Most people see or experience little distinction between mobile Internet and the Internet accessed on a laptop or desktop computer—at the end of the day, it’s all just data. But at least as far as net-neutrality regulations went, for a long time the mobile, wireless Internet was an entirely different animal from the wired one.
In 2010, when the Federal Communications Commission first approved net-neutrality rules, it exempted mobile networks. The most recent changes to net-neutrality rules explicitly stated that mobile services should be covered under the same classification as wired broadband, given that “mobile broadband Internet access service is interconnected with the public switched network.” The FCC has given this reclassification teeth: In June, they fined AT&T $100 million for throttling users on unlimited data plans. But in the months since the FCC issued the rule changes, several mobile carriers have begun introducing services that seem like blatant challenges to the entire premise of net neutrality.