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On November 21, 2017, FCC chairman Ajit Pai unveiled plans to repeal the net neutrality policy in the United States. Why is this important, and should you be worried? What, exactly, is net neutrality?
Net Neutrality is usually defined as the principle that internet service providers should treat all online content equally without blocking or slowing down specific websites on purpose or allowing companies to pay for preferential treatment.
Translated into layman’s terms, it means that your internet connection should treat all websites and services the same, that is, you should not be charged more for accessing your email and less for Facebook and if you refuse to pay more to access your email, such access should not be throttled or blocked just based on such different treatment. The same applies to the company providing such service – they should not be charged more for the provision of access to their services and not be blocked or slowed down. In addition, Net Neutrality extends further to prevent different treatment based on user, platform, content, application, mode of communication, etc. The term “network neutrality” was first used by the Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu in 2003.
A 2010 paper on Net Neutrality by Nobel Prize economist Gary Becker and his colleagues stated that “there is significant and growing competition among broadband access providers and that few significant competitive problems have been observed to date, suggesting that there is no compelling competitive rationale for such regulation”. Becker and fellow economists Dennis Carlton and Hal Sidler found that “Between mid-2002 and mid-2008, the number of high-speed broadband access lines in the United States grew from 16 million to nearly 133 million, and the number of residential broadband lines grew from 14 million to nearly 80 million. Internet traffic roughly tripled between 2007 and 2009. At the same time, prices for broadband Internet access services have fallen sharply.” The profit margins of U.S. broadband providers are generally one-sixth to one-eighth of companies that use broadband (such as Apple or Google), contradicting the idea of monopolistic price-gouging by providers.
Those in favor of forms of non-neutral tiered Internet access argue that the Internet is already not a level playing field, that large companies achieve a performance advantage over smaller competitors by providing more and better-quality servers and buying high-bandwidth services. Should scrapping of net neutrality regulations precipitate a price drop for lower levels of access, or access to only certain protocols, for instance, such would make Internet usage more adaptable to the needs of those individuals and corporations who specifically seek differentiated tiers of service.
There has been speculation that one of the largest internet service providers, Comcast would start to “throttle” certain web traffic, although they have insisted this is not the case, in a recent tweet, which reads: “We do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content. We will continue to make sure that our policies are clear and transparent for consumers, and we will not change our commitment to these principles.” Hopefully, their word will be good. Comcast has also, for the record, stopped claiming that they would not ever provide paid prioritization. In May of 2014, Senior Executive Vice-President David Cohen stated, “To be clear, Comcast has never offered paid prioritization, we are not offering it today, and we’re not considering entering into any paid prioritization creating fast lane deals with content owners.” Recent statements from Comcast do not contain this promise.
So what does it mean? Surprisingly, the biggest blow-back has come from the viewers of internet porn sites, who are afraid that the days of free porno on their phones are soon to be over. There may be changes, but rest assured, porn will always find a way to seep through the cracks and back into the bilge of our society.
In fact, I recall the discovery of a cave in France, The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, which boasts cave paintings said to be between 17,000 and 35,000 years old, and other early art as well. The artwork which is said to be the oldest is a depiction of female body parts. Scientists speculate that this might hold some religious significance, i.e., the goddess of fertility or something, but I think that it is simply the earliest form of simple pornography.
The most troublesome aspect may well be the ability of connected players to manipulate the stock market, by being a little faster than everyone else and being able to trade faster as a stock price begins to decline.
There is an email address to leave a public comment to the FCC, email@example.com, so if you feel like having your voice heard on this matter, knock yourself out. I believe that the FCC is going to do away with Net Neutrality when they vote on the plan on December 14, 2017. I don’t think the internet is over, I think there will be lots of opportunities in this new landscape. Five years ago I laughed when a friend told me that he had bought “Bitcoin” using actual money to pay for it, (a few bucks), and recently, Bitcoin was going for $10,000 a coin. The internet existed before net neutrality, and it will continue to exist. Instead of everybody being on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, perhaps there will be a return to moderated chatrooms, where people can exchange ideas relating to specific topics, and real discovery and learning can take place, instead of ridicule, sassy memes and name-calling. Perhaps the sanitizing and commercializing of online communication which has taken place over the last fifteen years will become irrelevant as people find new ways to exchange information, ways that don’t require as much bandwidth. Perhaps books will become popular again, print media, magazines. Who knows?
There is no need to fear change. It is precisely times like these which bring out the innovators. 187 years ago the telegraph was invented. 141 years ago the telephone was invented. Both are still in use, to some degree. The internet is young, yet. The unrelenting march of progress and the indefatigable drive of innovation through the lush, fertile fields of capitalism will prevent it’s untimely, premature death.