Given all the recent attention to it, net neutrality might seem like something new, but it has actually been a subject of debate for several decades. From as far back as Ted Stevens and his ridiculous “the internet is a series of tubes” speech, our representatives and policymakers have discussed the topic ad nauseum.
However, what makes net neutrality such a major issue today is the increasing impact its removal would have on users and companies. In a nutshell, net neutrality is the idea that all internet traffic should be given equal priority with no preference given to any specific services or companies when it comes to delivering content to users.
There’s only one group that truly has a vested interest in ending net neutrality—internet service providers, and they’ll do anything they can to convince us that voting for their interests is a vote for our interests.
Something you’ll see almost universally across all business models is the attempts of middlemen to try and squeeze a few extra dollars out from the transactions between two parties. The internet is no freer of these leeches than the banking industry or any other for-profit market.
In the net neutrality debate, these middlemen are the internet service providers. These companies are providers specifically for consumers—they connect individuals and businesses to the rest of the world to facilitate whatever activities they prefer.
A few examples include Comcast, Spectrum, and ATT; these ISPs are the foundational element of all connectivity. For the most part, their fees are flat for internet usage—pay for service, get a certain speed. Larger companies using extreme amounts of bandwidth might be faced with slightly different fees.
Where they hope to inject themselves and where net neutrality becomes an issue is between businesses and customers. But how do they intend to do this?
Paid Internet “Highways”
The goal of striking down net neutrality is to allow big ISPs such as Comcast to charge businesses extra money for preferred bandwidth. This would give them incredible control over what content people can reliably access—even more than what the current strategy of geo-blocking allows.
For instance, individual services already restrict content based on geography. Netflix is a great example of this; they tailor their library based on IP location. More clever users can navigate around these restrictions through the use of VPNs, but most people are stuck with whatever is available in the country in which they are viewing.
But what ISPs want to do is step in ahead of everyone and tell Netflix—among other companies—that if you don’t pay, your viewers will experience reduced speeds. Without net neutrality, Spectrum could throttle traffic requesting data from Netflix, YouTube, etc., unless they pay the toll, of course.
On the surface that doesn’t sound bad to everyone. Why should we consumers care if major companies such as Google have to pay extra for their services to work well? After all, these are billion dollar companies.
However, it starts to become a serious issue when you realize other companies with lower revenue could effectively be cut out of serious user access if they refuse to pay the extortion fees. Creation of these preferential internet routes could easily devolve into ISPs controlling what content we view based on who pays them.
Trickle Down Costs
Don’t be fooled into thinking any of us could possibly benefit from ISPs gaining the authority to charge other providers extra. Connection fees would most certainly continue to rise as steadily as ever without a single discount to the consumer, despite all the extra revenue ISPs would stand to collect.
Instead, it’s more likely we’d see these extra costs passed down to consumers. Paid services would see an increase in cost while free services would either be knocked out of existence or be forced to bombard visitors with more ads than ever before. YouTube is a great example, given that their profit model is based almost entirely on ads at this point.
Rest assured, the only ones paying any extra bills will be us, internet users if net neutrality is struck down.
On a final note, it seems worth discussing the political implications of net neutrality’s demise. Presently, there is plenty of bias already in favor of the dominating political parties—the Republicans and Democrats get the lion’s share of media coverage as is. But online, competition has a chance thanks to independent blogs and news sources.
That wouldn’t be the case in a controlled net. Vastly underfunded, third parties could never afford the prime bandwidth fees like their mainstream counterparts. While we don’t know exactly how extreme bandwidth throttling would be for non-payers, it’s safe to assume we’re simply better off not finding out.
At the end of the day, net neutrality exists for a reason. Any efforts to destroy it are either misguided by misinformation or greedy stabs at trying to squeeze a few extra dollars out of companies and consumers.
How will you support net neutrality? Let us know in the comments below.