The Truth About Net Neutrality

OK, it has come to my attention that a lot of people have no freaking clue what Net Neutrality really is. As someone who used to own an Internet Service Provider, let me dump some knowledge on you. Net Neutrality, in short, is the idea that ISPs (i.e Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner, etc) must treat every packet of data they route across their network in a neutral fashion… that means not blocking or degrading traffic based on where it is going, were it comes from, or what the content is. In the telecom industry this is called being a ‘common carrier’. They just provide a pipe and don’t concern themselves with what you send through it.

Why is this important? It is the entire concept on which the Internet was built and the reason it is hugely successful. When you pay your monthly Internet subscription fee, you expect to have access to the ENTIRE Internet, not just the parts that sit directly on Time Warner’s cables. You are paying Time Warner to plug into the global system, not just provide you access to the content they deem worthy. Net Neutrality assures that YOU get to choose what parts of the Internet you see.

Without Net Neutrality, large ISPs can use their near monopoly status to extort additional fees out of companies (and this is the important part) EVEN WHEN THAT COMPANY IS NOT THEIR CUSTOMER. Comcast could go to AT&T business customers and say “If you want our Internet subscribers to see your website, you need to pay us additional fees.”

Think they won’t? They are already doing this to Netflix. Their supposed justification is that Netflix is chewing up a lot of their network capacity… but that is a distortion if not outright lie… it is Comcast’s own customers that are using up that bandwidth when they CHOOSE to connect to Netflix. Basically, Netflix is being punished and extorted for being popular and successful.

If the big ISPs get their way, Netflix will be only the beginning; they will extort similar fees from other popular services and websites. They will degrade services that compete with their own. It will be the death of the Internet as a level playing field of entrepreneurial opportunity. Gone will be the days that your tiny start-up can have the same professional looking web presence that a billion dollar company has… only the companies with deep pockets that can afford the extortion (i.e. the Internet ‘fast lane’) will be able to compete.

So when you hear some politician or telecom executive railing against Net Neutrality, understand that they are not trying to protect the Internet or look out for your interests. It is all about lining their own pockets.  This is important to keep in mind in the months ahead, since a new FCC under Donald Trump is likely to scrap Net Neutrality, making the Internet less useful and more expensive for everyone.  But only if we let them.  If we all work together and make our voices heard, we can save Net Neutrality.

I welcome your opinions in the comments.

 

2 Comments

  1. IAN R BUCK

    I just taught a lesson on Net Neutrality on Tuesday! When I realized that I would have to update the lesson due to recent events, I became very sad because I knew it wouldn’t be good news. We have our work cut out for us, but I think we have a chance. Remember how much attention SOPA got when we all banded together?

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  2. Thad (Post author)

    Agreed, we all need to ban together and do all we can to preserve Net Neutrality. That starts with educating our friends and family about what it is and why it is important. On the surface it may seem like an esoteric business issue, but in this day and age the Internet is central to free speech.

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