Net Neutrality for Beginners: It’s Important
Whoa! The internet is angry. Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, YouTube — everyone seems to be talking about net neutrality. What’s the big deal? Why do you keep seeing this red image posted with “URGENT” everywhere?
Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission announced that they plan to vote on December 15th to remove internet protections that were implemented in 2015. These protections essentially told ISP’s (companies like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Cox, Verizon, etc.) that they had to treat internet connections equally with no discrimination.
Why Should I Care?
Here’s what the future will likely look like:
- You will pay for Internet like you pay for cable TV — packages for certain websites, paying extra for others
- You will have a cap on your home internet, like you have on your phone plan
- Certain websites will be slower than others based on the deals they make to pay Comcast, Time Warner, etc.
- New technology companies trying to get started wont’ be able to compete with existing companies that have special deals to get access to consumers
- Existing companies (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) won’t be able to create new features, like 4K streaming
Currently, the internet falls under a similar ruling to what we have for other utilities in the U.S. There are regulations for connecting to the electric grid. The electric company gives you access to the grid and they charge you monthly for that access. They aren’t allowed, however, to discriminate what appliances are allowed to use that electricity. Imagine if they could charge extra for powering a Samsung brand washer & dryer because General Electric had made a deal with them on the side.
That’s why the Net Neutrality protections are so incredibly important. The internet has grown up. It’s no longer the Wild West. We have established ISP’s (Comcast) that own monopolies in many regions of the U.S. Oh you don’t want to pay $100 a month for sub standard internet? Too bad. You only get to choose them. They want to limit how many Netflix shows you can watch a month? Too bad. You have nowhere else to turn.
What About Free Market Regulation!?
In America, we like the idea of a free, hands off (laissez-faire!) market. Market economies work incredibly well for many, many things. As an example, 2017 has been a great year for consumers for groceries. Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger have been driving prices to the bottom of the barrel in an effort to take market share from one another.
One argument of people opposed to Net Neutrality is that the free market will regulate the issue. If Comcast or Time Warner becomes too evil, other smaller ISP’s will be able to get started and compete. People will flock to them and give business to ISP’s who offer a better, more neutral internet. It’s like the electricity example I gave earlier. People can easily create their own electric company and have their neighbors switch to that, right?
Unfortunately, this will very, very likely not be the case.
The issue is that, like an electric grid, it’s incredibly expensive to create an ISP. It’s so expensive in fact that many of the existing companies have received an insane amount of money (tax breaks, subsidies) from the U.S. Government.
This is further complicated by the fact that it may be feasible for some areas to have multiple competitors but it leaves poor, rural areas in the internet dark ages. Oh you’re poor? Looks like you only get the monopoly that offers Fox News & Breitbart News as part of the basic package… or the reverse side of that package, CNN & Huffington Post. Think we have a problem with ideological echo chambers now?
ISP’s Fight Dirty
Remember when everyone was excited about Google Fiber? Governors, mayors, and other local politicians were begging Google to come install Fiber in their cities. Did you know that ISP’s fought Google tooth and nail for every single inch of territory where Google tries to provide service?
Remember what ultimately happened? Google paused the roll out in 2016. If Google’s legal team can’t fight successfully, what chance does a small start up have against the monopolies?
Recently, Fort Collins, Colorado — a small community decided they’d had enough with the monopolies and they would build their own community network. Not so fast! The ISP’s aren’t giving up without a fight. Instead of trying to compete on price or service, they spent $451,000 trying to defeat the ballot measure. Luckily, Fort Collins saw through that effort and passed it anyways. I’m sure their fight isn’t over.
The Internet Was Free Before
Pre 2015, things were just fine. We can go back to that level of regulation and be fine. Right? Unfortunately no, we can’t. Things weren’t protected and there were many cases of ISP’s trying to be evil. That’s why we implemented the protections in the first place.
- Comcast tried to block P2P connections in 2007
- Comcast forced Netflix to pay them for access to subscribers in 2014
- MetoPCS blocked all videos except YouTube in 2011
- AT&T forced Apple to block Skype on iPhones from 2007 — 2009
- Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile blocked consumers from using Google Wallet in 2011
- The list is very long
The United States has been known as the land of opportunity for generations. It has an incredibly streamlined process for creating businesses, a tested form for shielding entrepreneurs from business risk, and overall an absolutely incredible ecosystem that fosters innovation. I am proud to be an American and I’m proud of the system we’ve created to encourage this growth.
Removing Net Neutrality is a poison to this vision. Let’s think through an example for a minute. A very realistic example.
- Net Neutrality protections are removed
- Comcast, Cox, AT&T, Verizon, etc. immediately implement data caps across the country
- YouTube and Netflix are forced to pay $100+ Million a year in a special deal to make their traffic not count toward consumer data caps
Note: This is only partially hypothetical. They are already successfully pushing this forward all over the country. Here’s a screenshot I took this morning from my own ISP, Cox in Phoenix. They implemented this data cap without notifying me. I will now be charged for any “extra” internet I use over my cap.
T-Mobile is already ahead of the pack in this regard. They have special deals with certain music providers that won’t count towards your data caps.
Now, ask yourself, “How does this affect American entrepreneurs?”
Netflix and YouTube will be fine. They can afford the fees. How about the next new service started in someone’s garage? How are they going to compete? They can’t afford to pay for a special deal with T-Mobile, Comcast, Verizon, etc. No one will be able to use new, innovative services because they they are pigeon holed into using services that don’t count towards their data caps.
If you’re international, you may be thinking, “This has nothing to do with me. Sucks to be you guys!” (Unless you’re Portugal where you’ve already lost the fight and this already happening.)
You’re wrong. Even if your regulators see past the lobbying dollars and manage to not be corrupt (good luck). You’re still affected by the way that it will shape services all over the globe.
The U.S. is an incredibly lucrative market for both domestic and international companies. Any company looking to do business with U.S. consumers will need to weigh their innovative ideas against the fact that U.S. consumers will have limited bandwidth to utilize their inventions. It will stifle innovation worldwide.
What can I do?
I’m not going to lie. We’re pretty screwed right now. There are 5 people at the FCC who will vote on repealing these protections. 3 of the 5 have already said they will repeal the protections on December 15th. There is a very, very good chance they are already bought and paid for. We’re going to lose that vote.
That doesn’t mean the fight is over though. We need an act of Congress. We need long term protections enshrined in law. The only way for that to happen is to educate the masses and create political will.
First, learn why this issue is important. Second, help other people to understand why this is important. Finally, contact your representatives and tell them how you feel.
Visit https://www.battleforthenet.com/ or text “RESIST” to 50409 if you need help contacting them.