For most, Net Neutrality might seem like a topic for guys who argue over who is the strongest Avenger–it’s The Hulk by the way. But Net Neutrality is not a technical topic, it is more of an ethical one. Should there be regulations on the companies that provide the internet, and what are the consequences with, and without, those regulations?
But before going any further, let’s talk about how is data prioritize on a network in the first place.
As you know, data can be many things, from the latest cat video, to the newest Taylor Swift song, or an email stating that you should be working and not watching videos or listening to music. And for quite some time, networks have been able to differentiate this data at the application and even the addressing level. This capability can be very useful where efficiency is required; for example, a network that host Voice-over-IP (internet phone) will use a form of quality-of-service to manage its bandwidth so that the calls don’t sound choppy.
So, as you can see, for a long time data was not just data. But how did prioritization moved from a form of management to a debate on ethics?
Well, it all started around the same time when online companies, like Netflix, were quickly growing into heavy-weight contenders, which placed them at odds with the very corporations (ISPs) whose infrastructures they were using: Here were young companies taking revenue from corporations that have existed for decades; to say the least, the ISPs were not happy with this scenario.
So to gain the advantage, the ISPs took the idea of data management, turned it on its head, and used it as a means of stifling the competition; and this led to angry outbursts from customers who were experiencing slowdowns due to this new form of throttling. But the ISPs were not done, by golly, they had a solution: Why don’t these providers–who are using their infrastructure–pay them more for better service? What an amazing way to go about fixing a problem, which you are currently creating. At this point in time, it was clear who were holding the keys to the internet, and they were not going to play fair.
But on February 26, 2015, it all changed. The FCC ruled in favor of Net Neutrality, which reclassified broadband as common carriers under Title 11 of the Communications Act. This meant that ISPs could no longer discriminate against certain types of data; this made them more of a utility, like, electricity.
And so the internet was once again free to innovate and grow, and everyone was happy. Well, not everyone.
There is a glaring reason why Net Neutrality is not great for ISPs, and that’s because ISPs came from a much older infrastructure, cable television. At one time, cable was a lucrative business; but, this is all changing. People are spending more and more time consuming online content, and advertisers go where the viewers are. So, yes, the cable and television industry is in trouble and they know it, and they have been fighting tooth and nail–ever since the reclassification–to get rid of Net Neutrality; and they are about to get what they want.
So you may be wondering, how does this affect me? The ISPs are not asking me to pay more–they are asking the companies. But the truth is, it does affect you. You must realize that the ISPs do not have a problem with online content; the issue they have is with who is providing that content. Remember, they know that the television industry is dying, but they have a plan, and you guessed it… it’s online content. With Net Neutrality out of the way, they would not be obligated to play fair. They can provide their own content with the highest service quality while downgrading the service for their competitors. This is not how you go about nurturing innovation, it’s actually how you go about being a bully.
But what about the government regulating the internet, isn’t that the definition of authoritative? Well, Net Neutrality is not about regulating the internet, but regulating its gatekeepers. When there are entities–which are few in numbers–in control of a service that has become a necessity of the modern age… that in itself can be authoritative.
Think of it this way, if your electrical company told you that the price of their service will be determined by the brand of the appliances you have in your home; how would you react?
But, the fact is, the approach will be much more subtle; like, offering you a service discount for using one option over the others, which on the surface sounds like a good deal. But here is the catch, what if the option that they are proposing is of poor quality, and that discount–you thought was so good–is from a price that has already been purposely marked up; all of a sudden, your options have become no option at all.
So, let’s talk about the open market. Competition is a point that advocates, who are against Net Neutrality, like to bring up. Competition will keep the ISPs honest, they say. The problem is that ISPs are not your local fast-food restaurants, where choosing one over the other only requires crossing the street or walking half-a-block. For most areas, there are only two ISPs, others, just one; and this is not going to change. Here is why! Access to the internet requires infrastructure, which takes up physical space: This is the reason why you don’t have multiple electrical companies running their own lines in your neighborhood–it creates congestion and it is downright redundant and stupid; it is just reasonable to have one working infrastructure. So this basically gives ISPs a pass to be monopolies, and that is the very reason why they should be regulated.
Net Neutrality protects customers and even up-and-coming innovators. Striping it away will give ISPs the power to control what you do on the internet and how you do it. Saying that ISPs would act in the customer’s best interest, without Net Neutrality, is foolish; because, at the end-of-the-day, these corporations have one obligation and that is to protect their bottom line, which sadly has very little to do with ethics: You can not blindly place your well-being in their hands.