As you are no doubt aware, the FCC voted 3-2 on Thursday, to repeal the 2 1/2-year-old Net Neutrality rules. I’ll admit that the coined phrase, “Net Neutrality” certainly sounded good.
The words invoked images of a perfect world. You know, where there’s a fair and free market and open internet. Where there’s a neutral level playing field so that anyone anywhere could cook up an idea and run with it and no one could put up any barriers to get in their way.
The Washington name game
Like most legislation coming out of Washington, the name didn’t really reflect what the law would have done. Here’s a case in point: Ask yourself, “Where was the internet 25 years ago in 1992?” For the most part, it did not exist!
OK, then ask yourself how in the world did it become the all-pervasive, everywhere at once, information, education, communications, entertainment, shopping and commerce giant that it is today? Was it because of early so-called Net Neutrality? Well, of course not. In fact, most agree that the internet is what it is precisely because the government did NOT interfere.
It did not regulate, oversee, act as traffic cop or playground teacher. For the government, it was strictly, HANDS OFF. And we created the freest and fair marketplace in history, allowing consumers to choose the winners and losers in a competitive marketplace.
This resulted in the best ideas, products and services rising to the top. The internet thrived, business competition soared. New business opportunities became possible, think eBay, VRBO, Amazon, the list is endless. Everyone benefitted because the playing field was level. Anyone could come. And everyone DID come.
The internet became a place where anyone could do virtually anything and make money. Free speech abounded. Every viewpoint was clamoring to be heard. Suddenly, people of both sides of the political fence began coming up with ways and ideas to silence those on the OTHER side of the fence. Lots of ideas were floated including an internet “use tax” or licensing websites the same way they license radio and TV stations.
What’s the “Net Neutrality” fight really about?
A few years ago, someone cooked up a coined phrase “Net Neutrality.” Who couldn’t be for a neutral internet? It played especially well with recent college graduates, ahhh the Millennials, who were not around for the beginning of the internet to be firsthand witnesses of how its level playing field grew from nothing.
The fight over net neutrality was never about a level digital playing field, although that’s what its advocates continue to claim. Its real purpose was to prohibit something called “paid prioritization.” Paid prioritization is the technical term used to describe an agreement between a content provider and a network owner to allow the provider’s data to travel on less-congested routes in exchange for an agreed-upon fee.
When networks are clogged with data during high-traffic times, prioritization agreements allow consumers to receive requested data faster. Netflix and other high-volume content providers have already begun negotiating such deals. All kinds of data including emails, cat videos, that Instagram photo of your sandwich, travel over the internet but some data types are more tolerant of delays or temporary congestion.
For instance, the bits comprising an email don’t need to arrive at a recipient’s computer all in the same order they were sent. Other kinds of data, primarily video, are less tolerant of delays. Receiving the data bits in the wrong order or at the wrong time can cause distortions, stutters and other playback problems.
You get what you pay for
If they choose to do so, content companies like Hulu and Netflix can choose to pay ISPs a little bit extra to have their content bits delivered to consumers faster than some other company, such as Amazon. Very NOT neutral, but necessary.
To prohibit it harms consumers in the name of helping them. Lost in the translation is this inconvenient fact: We’ve always had to pay for faster service! If you wanted faster service, you had to buy more bandwidth. Net Neutrality’s real name was FCC 15-24, a radical departure from the market-oriented policies that have served us so well for the last two decades.
Did we have evidence that the internet is not open? No. Did we discover some problem with our prior interpretation of the law? No. What happened was that despite 25 years of working just fine, the former FCC wanted to help large content providers like Amazon, Google, Twitter and Netflix gain leverage against traditional cable companies. So-called net neutrality would have prevented upgrading for better service.
ISPs would have been forced to treat all data alike, ignoring the different needs of the various kinds of data traveling over the internet. It stuck your favorite Netflix stream on the same slow road as your least-favorite email from work.
It would have prevented the data you want from getting to you when you want it and how you want it. Under the benign-sounding “Net Neutrality” campaign, BIG TECH companies like Google, Amazon, Yahoo would be able to censor the internet to suit their ideological preferences, ridding the internet of conservative and libertarian content.
Google’s role in it all
Google was especially vested, as the tech giant helped write the 2015 net neutrality rules and Google, YouTube, Amazon, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and the others were trying to assume a kind of moral high-ground, to control the flow of data.
“Net Neutrality” would have given the Federal Government and big tech the power to choose winners and losers online, in an egregiously partisan manner. “Net Neutrality” said nothing about neutrality and everything about governmental control and nepotistic picking of favorites, which is the very opposite of neutrality.