Part of I want to do with my site is share information about technology to help you. I want you to have a better understanding of technology related issues/news/products so that you feel like you are equipped to deal with whatever confronts you. If you are in a store; shopping for a product; or just trying to understand, I want you to feel like you aren’t overwhelmed and end up convinced by someone else’s “want” that it is something you “need.” Topic for today is “Net Neutrality.”
What is “Net Neutrality?” The textbook answer is the idea that all internet traffic should be treated the same and not prioritized over any other traffic on the internet. To put it another way… all lanes of the interstate/highways have the same speed limit (as regulated by the State that builds them) and all different cars, trucks are allowed in any of the lanes and you can travel unhindered from point A to point B. This is pretty close to what has been the case with most things with the internet, at least in the U.S. You can get to Google, Bing, Ask, Yahoo or whatever you want to because, for the most part, the ISP’s who build and maintain their bits of the internet have been told they have to play nice, not hinder the traffic and it was a huge cash cow for them. Now that is all up in the air because the FCC was told that it doesn’t have the power to enforce Net Neutrality.
Ok… how does this matter to you? Continuing with the interstate metaphor, say California has a beef with Oregon because they are offering competing services. California decides to allow only 1 lane of I-5 on its northern border into the state. All other roads going south are closed at the border with Oregon and its just 1 lane handling the tens of thousands of cars and trucks going south a day. “Well traffic will just shift… and go east… Nevada is right there” Yes, it may, but then the costs of those goods go up. People are unhappy with the services Oregon is providing because of the delay, and even though Oregon is offering a superior product, it will skew the market and California will sell more of its services to its folks. Not only that, but then California has the ability to further skew the market and reduce its costs by “limiting” the amount of traffic that can come in from any one place. Oh… and if Oregon wants to use the other roads… well… they can do that. They just have to pay extra to California and they will open another lane, the cost of that other lane? It would effectively quadruple the cost of all services from Oregon. “Well…that just wouldn’t happen…” you are likely saying. Wouldn’t it? I think that there are lots of examples in our past and present that would bear this out. Broadcast television, cell service providers… oh and internet service providers.
In real terms… you know Netflix? Or Amazon Prime? Or Hulu? Or <insert random streaming video service here>? They are not internet service providers (ISPs) but do pay tolls to use the internet to provide a service. Now, many of the ISPs (e.g. Verizon, Comcast, Century Link, etc.) offers their own subscription streaming service. Without any rules saying “you need to treat traffic fairly and equally…” an ISP, who controls the roads in and out, can prioritize its traffic over everyone else’s and/or “throttle” traffic from competitors on its network unless they stop competing. “That wouldn’t happen…” it already is. Folks who have unlimited data plans on Verizon’s network already get throttled. There are more than just incidental reports of Verizon already throttling Netflix. Need more? Speeds are dropping on for Netflix users on Comcast networks as well. That is the fourth and first largest ISPs by market share. Still not convinced? Look at how ISPs offer their service and how they are responding to when a new player tries to enter the market. If you have looked for an ISP, you know this. There is likely one, maybe two players in town. I’m also willing to bet that you already know that one doesn’t offer service “in your area” or has such low quality service that you go with the other one. Maybe it’s just easier to “bundle and save…” but are you really saving? You are likely over paying for poor performance, frequent outages and having to play the “time to call and threaten to leave to hopefully get my price lowered…” card. It’s not just me saying this…if you are in the tech industry, you already know this and you, as the consumer should know it too. They do not want to compete. Proof? Google fiber. ISPs are already working hard to prevent the expansion of Google Fiber in places where it is and caused cities to have to step in to require ISPs to share the public space with a competitor. Why? Because Google Fiber offering is a massive competitor and will upset the way things have been working. For $120 dollars a month you get Internet that is about somewhere between 2000x and 20x faster then what you currently have (you likely in the 1000x-200x range), a solid TV lineup for a lot less cost. “I don’t really want TV and all that…” Fine. How does a one-time $300 dollar payment and you get 7 years of internet at what is the considered by Google as the “basic speed.” No monthly payment. No bundling. No bull. It is serious competition. Monopolies do not want to compete.
Ok…still think this is all “blah blah blah…don’t care.” If you have kids or know someone who does, you should care. Internet access is a corner stone of 21st century communications, commerce and employment. If you can’t get reliable, affordable internet and computers to children, schools and where they live they will fall behind in skills that much of our international competitors are rapidly picking up. I don’t just say this, tech companies say this. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple are all saying this. Additionally, there are already indications that by shaking up the market there are significant economic benefits as well.
Anyway…that is Net Neutrality, why it is important and some of the impacts you can see already when companies stop competing.