How I’m Seeing Net Neutrality

I’ve seen an awful lot of talk about “Net Neutrality” and how the Internet needs to be protected.  The fight was fought (and won) for an open Internet just a few years ago, but with the new Presidential administration it has come up again.

I think part of the problem is that the Internet, being the result of technology, confuses people on basic issues.  If we were talking about mailing letters or shipping boxes, the “debate” would be over already, so I’m going to lean on those for obvious parallels (even though the metaphor might not be perfect, the idea should come across).

Suppose you want to send a package somewhere.  If it’s a Christmas card, you probably sent it with a stamp at the lowest priority, because you didn’t worry too much about when it would arrive.  If you had an urgent package, you might choose to ship via an overnight service to make sure it arrives fast.  In both cases, since you’re paying the cost, you get to pick the service you signed up for.  When you sign up for an Internet subscription, you’re picking your service.  When I checked AT&T, I saw they were offering a 50 Mbps, 75 Mbps, and 100 Mbps connection – that’s like choosing your shipping service.

What this most recent “debate” is about is whether it’s really okay for you to go where you want to go on the Internet.  Large companies are upset that you might choose to look up a smaller competitor’s site, and in their view you are “donating” your bandwidth to that company.  They think that people on both ends should have to pay for a premium service, or suffer from lower quality.

That would be like deliberately slowing down an overnight package – not because you sent it to a remote part of Alaska, but because the receiver didn’t also pay for overnight shipping.  You already paid for the entire service, but the multi-billion dollar companies want to make it so that both parties have to pay.  I have no doubt that the cost will be “just out of reach” for non-billionaires.

We even have a historical example to show how this preferential treatment works out.  Rockafeller “worked together” or “colluded” with railroads (depending on who you ask) in order bankrupt his competitors.  This is exactly what the “net neutrality” discussion is about – whether the Internet will be available to everyone (similar to a common carrier), or whether it will favor some few people over many others.

I think competition is necessary for healthy business, and one of the reasons the economy has been in the toilet for so long is the lack of good competition between companies.  Many of the companies that are prospering are doing so through the Internet.  Our Internet services are already not competitive (and among the worst value in the world, thanks to high costs and low speeds), and billionaires using this to artificially stifle their competition should not be allowed.  Internet service was determined as a common carrier in 2015, and we need to keep it that way.


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