Note: I acknoweldge that there are folks out there on the right side of the political spectrum who support net neutrality. It's hard not to once you take the time to get informed about it. I've seen some of them eloquently arguing for it today. If you're one of these people, please take this post with a grain of salt. It's not meant for you. This shouldn't be a right or left issue. Unfortunately, it seems to have been made into one, and so here's my exasperated post about it...
So, President Obama just did a pretty great thing today, coming out as strongly supporting net neutrality. Now, he campaigned on this as well, but campaign promises mean nothing without action. Of course, it's not up to him, it's up to the FCC. But it does add weight to have the president vocally advocate that this is what they should do.
Predictably, if Obama's for it, it seems that those who don't like him have to be against it.
As an aside: I disagree strongly with the Obama administration's handling of the NSA leaks. I think Edward Snowden is a poster boy for whistleblowers and that the NSA needs to be reined in. So, you can also like President Obama and not agree with his stance on certain issues.
So, repeat after me: "THIS DOESN'T HAVE TO BE ABOUT PRESIDENT OBAMA!"
Good? Have we all taken a deep breath?
So, let's talk about net neutrality. It's a government takeover of the Internet, trying to turn it into a socialist nightmare and destroy the free market, right?
I mean... that's what I'm hearing. That's what I always hear in the arguments against net neutrality. I've even seen Orwell quotes! Sheesh.
Before we go on, I'll give you a chance to listen to John Oliver on the topic because he explains it in a way more entertaining fashion than I can. Even more importantly, even though yes, he's a comedian, he's done his homework and is presenting the argument in a factually correct manner.
Still with me? Don't like John Oliver? Okay.
So, first, let's get one thing straight. 1MB of data is 1MB of data. It doesn't cost an ISP more to send that 1MB if it's video content from netflix and not just raw text from someone's blog. 1MB costs the same to transfer in both cases. This is important.
Second, when your ISP delivers data to you from netflix, it isn't taking up 1MB of data that HBO could be sending you. This isn't a push medium like cable TV. I'm paying for a pipe that gives me 1MB of data at a certain cost (or where I get so many MB of data per second at a certain cost). If I request that data from netflix, that's the data that gets sent through the pipe. netflix gets paid by my subscription. And my ISP gets paid because they transferred a certain number of MB my way.
Third... in most areas, high speed Internet is being delivered through a local monopoly. You have, at best, a couple of choices. In most places, you only have one choice, unless you want to deal at dialup speeds. In fact, some cities have begun to realize that they could give their residents a better, cheaper service than private companies, and they're being prevented from doing so by local laws. Again, in every case you're paying for the service. No one's asking for something for free. It's not being entitled. You're not asking your ISP for a premium service. You're simply asking them to do what you paid them to do: transfer a MB of data from there to here.
So, when you're arguing that you don't want government control of the Internet and that's why you don't like net neutrality, what you're really saying is that you'd prefer that a private company gets to make decisions for you about what content (from other companies) should be easy for you to access and what shouldn't. In fact, you're arguing for more control and less freedom for you to decide.
Think this won't hold back innovation? Read Tim Wu's book, The Master Switch on how all of this played out in other industries. When anyone, government or private industry, has a monopoly in a particular area, and there aren't regulations in place to prevent abuse of that monopoly, bad things happen. Technologies are held back because that company doesn't want them to compete with something else or is too shortsighted to see the potential.
YOU are paying for a certain amount of data per month delivered at a certain speed when you sign a contract with your ISP. There is nothing socialist about this. You sign the contract. They say they'll provide this service at a certain level of quality. The service you're asking for is an Internet where YOU get to decide where you want to go. It doesn't cost your ISP more or less to provide the MB/s of data that YOU want than it does to provide me with the MB/s of data I want. What net neutrality says is that when you pay for this service and sign that contract, your ISP should not be able to work out deals behind the scenes to deliver some traffic faster than others. If you love capitalism, and the way that it can allow someone with a good idea to compete with established companies, do you really want to allow the highways that can deliver those great ideas to be choked by backroom deals between a few powerful companies?