The Lack or Existence of Net Neutrality Does Not Affect Us

When I first heard of the term “net neutrality” and that the Internet was under attack in 2014, I was angry. Here we have, yet again, corporations using their monopolistic advantage to extract more short-term profits at the expense of the long-term livelihood of the Internet, and maybe even the long-term potential of humanity.

In theory, without enforced net neutrality, ISPs are able to dictate which internet companies live and die based on how much they are willing to pay the ISPs. For example, Comcast would be able to slow down Netflix to a slower rate if Netflix wasn’t willing to pay up. Going even further, Comcast owns NBCUniversal so maybe they would shut out Netflix entirely to further their own Internet video entertainment platform.

What are the chances Comcast would ever do something like that? Well, 100% since it actually already happened.

In the wake of that ordeal, Netflix and other companies and digital rights groups rallied together to create a campaign to educate the public on the necessity of net neutrality. In 2015 this culminated in getting ISPs regulated under Title II by the FCC. This effectively prevented ISPs from intentionally giving priority to specific network packets.

So now it’s 2017 and the new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is of the view that the Title II regulations are too strict and are causing a reduced investment in consumer broadband internet infrastructure. On May 18, 2017 the FCC voted to take steps to roll back the Title II regulations.

So now the pro net neutrality camp is at it again trying to educate the public on the necessity of net neutrality. Their main argument is that net neutrality will make the Internet slow. Being slow is not merely annoying, it has the capacity to prevent new internet startups from even getting off the ground. Imagine a world without Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat (there’s a joke in there somewhere).

At first I bought this argument but now it doesn’t quite make sense to me. ISPs market their business based on the idea of fast internet. Why would an ISP diminish their own service and brand? The moment that any given ISP becomes known for slow YouTube, the vast majority of the Internet consumer base would immediately seek out an alternative. New competitors would emerge in every city marketing themselves as a “Pro net neutrality ISP” or, rather, a “Fast YouTube ISP” and they would likely siphon off a large percentage of Comcast’s business.

This market counter-effect wouldn’t just be for established sites like YouTube. The internet economy thrives on innovation. For example, teenagers use Snapchat for many reasons but a significant reason is simply that it’s not Facebook. Imagine you’re in high school again. Let’s say a small group of kids are all using a new service called “FunCoolio” but it’s slow unless your ISP is “NeutralCom.” What are the chances you would ask your parents to switch over to NeutralCom?

Now you may be thinking, “What about when Comcast forced Netflix into a deal?” Things like that may happen but my question to you would be, “Did any Netflix or Comcast customers actually notice?” I think any such negotiations would take place with the goal of limiting customer impact. Comcast may have leverage over Netflix since they are the gatekeepers to Netflix’s customers, but Netflix also has leverage since degraded Netflix service would harm the Comcast brand.

To be clear, I am not against the Title II regulations, I’m simply pointing out a flaw in the main pro net neutrality argument. It’s a worse-case scenario that wouldn’t actually work in practice. In other words, FUD.

The main argument on the anti net neutrality side is that Title II regulations disincentivize investment in broadband Internet service infrastructure. If you watched the video above, Mr. Pai states that investment in broadband internet infrastructure has decreased by 5.6% among the top 12 ISPs in the country in the last two years.

This argument also makes little sense to me. As long as there is an apparent opportunity for any company to make a profit, one can expect that a venture will emerge to capture that opportunity. If there are neighborhoods or regions that don’t have internet access and want Internet access, that is a clear opportunity for profit. If a new technology, e.g. fiber, emerges that increases Internet bandwidth and there is demand for improved service, that is also a clear opportunity for profit.

Perhaps the biggest players, like Comcast or AT&T, will increasingly not deem it worth the effort to invest in smaller profit opportunities. That simply creates more opportunity for smaller players. Companies like Comcast and AT&T investing 5.6% less in Internet infrastructure allows smaller players to invest more.

To be clear again, I am not for the Title II regulations, I’m simply pointing out a flaw in the main argument against it. It’s a worse-case scenario that wouldn’t actually work in practice. In other words, FUD.

After debunking both of these arguments, I’m coming away with the conclusion that the lack or existence of Title II regulations has no effect on the normal Internet user. The lack of Title II regulations will have no long term effect on the speed of the free Internet and the existence of Title II regulations will not affect the growth of broadband infrastructure in the US.

Given that, the net neutrality debate simply seems to be a petty power struggle between the monopolies of the internet. It does not seem to be a battle for the future of the Internet. It really boils down to, should large Internet service companies like Netflix pay ISPs like Comcast? Sure, no, whatever, I don’t care, doesn’t affect me, nothing changes.

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