So, there is this argument/debate going on about net neutrality.
If you are reading this, then the internet is likely a major part of your life. There is a good chance that it is involved in everything you do in some ways. If you are reading this on a two to five inch screen, then it is almost guaranteed.
I know that I am always on Facebook. I get recipes online. I use the internet to learn about everything. Even if I don’t play a lot of online games these days (time issue), the internet is where I get most of my games. Seriously, Origin and Steam take up the vast majority of a terabyte hard drive with just over a hundred gigs free on it (For those who don’t know, Origin is EA Game’s version of Steam. If you don’t know what Steam is, it has been described as “The iTunes of Games.” If you don’t know what iTunes is, I think you are probably here by accident because you are trying to figure out who left their phone laying on the bench in some public place).
Now, how does this all apply to the issue of net neutrality?
The internet is a platform that ties pretty much everything together. It is made up of a massive number of networks that are tied together by a massive backbone. That backbone, and its connections to the smaller networks, is where the battle is taking place. And it is a battle. There may not be guns involved, but the outcome will impact all of us in one way or another.
A few decades ago, it was decided that this backbone (or these backbones rather) would carry data between networks in a neutral manner. Data going to Yahoo and Google would have the same level of priority as data going to a blog or a personal web page. This simple concept built the internet as we know it. This concept was the most important building block that allowed us to build the world we have today. It is what allowed small time web developers to create empires. It is what allowed Facebook to ever become a thing. It is what allows people on AOL to access websites that are not on the AOL network (If you have been online long enough, and started out on AOL, you may have a special understanding of this one).
The concept is simple: I pay my ISP. Facebook pays their ISP. The ISP’s then pay for access to the backbone. We get access to each other (i.e. I can access Facebook). Everyone pays for what they use.
Now, enter the idea of eliminating net neutrality. Suddenly, I pay my ISP. Netflix pays their ISP. Our ISP’s pay the backbones. So far so good. Now, suddenly Netflix gets a letter from the backbone provider that goes something like this “Want to keep your bandwidth up? Send us a check, and we will make sure you get better speeds.”
Wait a minute. They ALREADY paid for that bandwidth. They shouldn’t have to pay again.
Another form that it can take, that is a little less obvious, but just as bad, say it’s not the backbone that is doing this, but MY ISP. Say, Time Warner sends Netflix a letter saying “We have a pool of customers in common. If you want them to continue to enjoy the Netflix experience, you are going to pay us.”
Wait a minute. I already paid my ISP for just that experience. I already pay a MASSIVE amount (compared to the speed we get Americans pay more for internet access than most of the rest of the world) for access to the internet, and to get good speeds. The ISP specifically said that these speeds are ideal for streaming movies.
With net neutrality, we all pay for the bandwidth we use, the ISP’s and the backbone providers get filthy rich.
Without net neutrality, we all pay for the bandwidth we use, and content providers also pay for the bandwidth we use. They pretty much have to pass that extra expense on to us if they are going to stay in business. After all, this whole most expensive crappy internet in the world thing impacts them too, not just us.
The end result is that any company large enough to be able to afford to pay the kickbacks is going to be able to keep going, but their prices are going to go up. I am probably one of the most anti-corporate people I know, but I am not likely to blame them when that happens. Some of the really large ones may be able to balance the costs in order to keep the price hike from being too much, but those in the middle won’t have an option.
The smaller companies we deal with on a day to day basis? Well, they are going to have to come up with ways to make the experience of accessing their services comfortable with sub-par speeds, because in a world where people have become accustomed to being able to download data at high speeds, a slow page load will be sufficient to kill many companies out right.
If net neutrality dies, then so does an important part of the net. Net neutrality is what keeps the internet grassroots alive. I personally have a blog (you are likely reading this either on Facebook or on that blog). My blog is hosted by a small time ISP. They have server banks in three countries, but they are still tiny as far as ISP’s go. If net neutrality dies, I hope that they can afford to pay the extra fees to keep speeds decent. If they have to raise their prices to do so, I will completely understand.
The better option though is for us to find a way to make the politicians understand that net neutrality is important to the little guy, and the little guy is who votes for them. We need to find a way to insure that the politicians feel that their stance on net neutrality can have a real impact on their electoral chances. Just as importantly though, we have to make sure that this happens while the opposition is spending massive amounts of money to make things go their way.
After all, in a post “Citizens United” America, their stance on net neutrality already impacts their chances at reelection, because the telco’s are spending money on lobbying and advertising. Guess who is going to get the big corporate bucks for their campaign war chests.