For months, I’ve been harping on Net Neutrality. At least when it comes to my tech-related stuff. I’m against the idea of two-tiered Internet access. “They” say that adopting rules that allow for a two-tiered Internet wouldn’t affect the service we already have. “They” insist that it would just mean that those able to pay for premium data delivery would have better speeds and access than what is currently available.
I’m skeptical of this.
We’ve already seen that the telecommunications companies that provide our Internet access are all about charging as much as they can and providing crappy service. You only have to compare our Internet speeds to those experienced in other developed countries (and even some less-developed countries) to see that we’re behind as it is. Let the ISPs start charging for premium access, and it will get worse for those of us unwilling to pay up — and and very probably for those who are. Telecoms have monopolies in many areas of the country, and they can do whatever the hell they want, regardless of what consumers want. They can just ignore the market because they make the market. Supply and demand doesn't even compute for them. They don't even let the “invisible hand” make an attempt at anything. Telecoms represent a very visible hand, and that hand is shoving crappy, overpriced service down our throats.
Maintaining Net Neutrality is important because it is one of the main reasons that we have the innovation that we have right now. The ability of the “little guys” to compete with the “big guys” because their data is treated the same is important for startups, and for us as a society in the 21st Century, to avoid stagnation. It’s bad enough that Google now favors the “big guys” against upstarts, making it harder for people to find truly relevant and better results when they search, due to organic results being pushed further and further down the page to make room for paid results. It will be worse if the only companies and brands able to afford premium data delivery are the big companies and brands.
It's not just about startup access to speeds that make them tenable. The demise of Net Neutrality and the rise of a two-tiered Internet system might also impact your own bottom line. The graph below, from the Washington Post, perfectly illustrates the problem. You can see the data speeds for Netflix during their negotiations with Comcast. (My hatred of Comcast runs deep even though I pay for the service, and that hatred deepened still further when my ability to stream Netflix at full potential was hampered for a period of time.)
As you can see, Netflix was throttled. The increase in data delivery speed arrived after Netflix agreed to pay Comcast more money. The implications are rather distressing, and it looks like Netflix might have to make the rounds, paying off other ISPs as well.
If ISPs force companies, particularly video streaming services, to pay more in order to have their data delivered at speeds you can use, eventually these companies and services will have no choice but to pass the increased costs on to you. On the other side, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ISPs started charging customers even more for “upgraded” service. Double the price increases, and the ISPs don’t actually have to upgrade their service or infrastructure! Win!
Supposedly the current FCC proposal would come with all sorts of protections that would prevent “unreasonable” throttling and extra charges to consumers for access. There are also promises to provide transparency for the consumer. But I’m not sure how much I trust that.
Actually, I don’t trust it at all.
John Oliver breaks it down neatly here (language warning):
Title II Classification for ISPs
The Internet should be treated as a Title II “common carrier” under the Telecommunications Act. It just makes sense.
At this point the Internet is ubiquitous in Americans’ lives. We rely on it for information and to connect to others. Cable and satellite TV companies doubling up as ISPs would likely use a two-tiered system to limit our choices. Consumers are tired of paying exorbitant rates for channels that don’t use and for service that is sub-par. More and more of us prefer to pay for what we watch, and streaming services offer this. Rather than adapting and offering better packages or a la carte service, companies like Time Warner and Comcast (merger pending) want to throttle data so you can’t watch Netflix or Hulu or whatever without paying more. They want you to have to pay for their Internet service AND their TV offerings — even if you don’t want them.
A Title II classification would mean that ISPs couldn’t charge more for premium access. It would mean all data would have to be treated the same, just like phone companies were barred by this classification from favoring some phone calls over others. Just as the phone companies are seen as utilities, ISPs should be treated as such. It makes sense because of how important the Internet has become in our society. It really is a utility.
Let’s make our voices heard. Send an email to OpenInternet@FCC.gov and let the FCC know that we want to truly preserve Net Neutrality. While you’re at it, let your Congressional representatives and your state legislative representatives know that you support common carrier classification and Net Neutrality rules. Because it will get to that point as well.
Politicians in the pockets of the telecom lobbyists will start trying to enact laws, like those in 14 states, that prevent other options when private companies fail to provide what the market demands. In fact, it's already happened. A bill has been introduced to keep the FCC from classifying the Internet as a utility — over the strenuous objections of tech innovators, and many in the public. That's right: Congress is preparing to go against the People's express wishes on this matter.
The more We the People let politicians know that we are serious about Net Neutrality, better technology infrastructure, and the ability to continue expanding our options for information and entertainment (not restricting them), the less likely it is that ISPs will be able to gouge us further.
It’s time that we as a society, at least in one area, consider the common good over the idea that a few fat cats providing poor telecom service, and the politicians in their pockets, should profit even more at the expense of the rest of us.