What You Need To Know About Net Neutrality

After a much needed hiatus, I am back to blogging here again.

One of the greater inspirations to pick this up again has been connected to this guy’s rather insightful forecast of what the future holds. If you look at a history lesson of what the Internet was, conveniently summarized about a few elements of it here, you’ll see that it’s always been a messy compilation of everyone’s ideas.

If you’ve been on Facebook lately and you live in the USA, you’ve probably heard about “net neutrality”, which clearly sounds like a great thing. Obviously being neutral is good, and keeping the Internet open for everyone is good as well, right?

Unfortunately, it’s a far more complex issue that that. When you examine the data actually being presented regarding net neutrality, it paints a far more complex story than the activism would have you believe.

Whenever a political event happens, the decision that the politician presents will always serve some interested party. As a logical consequence of opportunity cost, it is guaranteed to work against the interests of someone else. A welfare program will raise tax dollars, cutting down on crime will often harm innocent transients, cutting taxes will make government budgeting harder, and so on.

Unfortunately, the yellow journalism of today is so blatant that it is leading people to see too much red to see the pros and cons of these far-reaching decisions.

In light of this, I’ve taken it upon myself to research the ideas present, and here’s what I’ve found.

First of all, the net neutrality bill enacted in 2015 came as a “nuclear option” to keep telecommunications companies from carrying out a favoritism of certain types of computer data. This has severely hampered landline internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon (ISPs), mobile network operators like T-Mobile and, um, Verizon (MNOs) from being able to profitably expand their services to cover more area or provide better internet in the areas that need it.

Net neutrality has actually been a policy battle since the 1990’s. Most of this battle (at least these days) is connected to whether a company that helps host the Internet is a Title II organization. Title II refers to the Communications Act of 1934 (a fascinating read for some attorneys and nobody else) and labels telecom companies as “common carriers”.

Common carriers and contract deliver a good, in this case website data or Internet media. The primary difference is that common carriers have no right to discriminate between who and what is being carried while contract carriers are transmitting the data at a cost that they can set. The net neutrality verbiage effectively labels all internet providers as common carriers.

There is a fundamental problem with removing net neutrality. By permitting companies to decide what data they can transfer according to a contractual agreement, they can arrange plans designed for tiered Internet access, with multiple “levels” of Internet based upon monthly fees or with different rates for different sites. This would normally not pose an issue with the free market sorting it out with a natural checks-and-balances that prevents complex pricing models from being in demand, but the recent growth of Facebook/Google/Amazon has thrust us into an era where removing this wall will allow someone access to 70% of the Internet at a discount. This obviously hurts the small business owner with their website, the blogger and a host of other creators, since they become subject to the whims of the algorithm on those other websites.

On the other hand, there is a fundamental problem with not removing net neutrality! By constraining telecoms to not favor certain bandwidth and not disregard other bandwidth, they are put under a regulatory strain that forces them to raise the cost of their services to stay profitable. This means that most people living in a non-urban area (like I do right now) will receive sub-par or no Internet. As well, it also can hold back the opportunity for those telecoms to provide incentives like free Internet for specific websites.

In effect, net neutrality thrusts a mandatory “unbiased” approach to everything, and it’s a double-edged sword. As the common user, this decision on December 14th (along with any others that will expand this philosophy) is going to determine if 99% of the nation will receive at least 70% Internet access, or if 85% of the nation receives 100% Internet access with 30% of it not being able to stream videos. (I just pulled these numbers out of thin air, comment if you find them!)

This battle won’t go away anytime soon, since there are bound to be many lawsuits connected to whatever is decided. Just remember that it’s not the end of the world yet. Even if it’s the start of the end of the world, we still have a few weeks to enjoy it, right?

Discuss.

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