Net Neutrality: What it is and what it isn’t

Whether you agree or disagree with Net Neutrality, it’s important to understand all the facts. Unfortunately, the proponents of Net neutrality often cherry pick them. With the upcoming Day of Action for Net Neutrality, I noticed a number of misguided notions and incorrect statements. I want to set a few facts straight.  This is statement is not my final word, but only addresses some of the most common misconceptions I’ve seen.

The Internet was born on the premise of preferred content

The Internet began with two government sponsored networks, Arpanet and NSFNet. According to Arpanet’s and NSFNet’s fair use policies, some traffic was allowed and some was not;  specifically, commercial traffic was banned, except for a few experimental trails.   While today, we might decry preferential content on Internet, it’s been part of the Internet from the start.  Consider also some of the early Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as AOL and CompUSA.  They included significant “preferred” content for their members. People paid significant sums for that preferred content.  Over time, consumers lost interest in this arrangement and slowly left these top ISPs, but the marketplace handled the change adequately. No regulation was or is necessary.

The Internet was not broken before Title II Net Neutrality protections were enacted

The FCC enacted Title II Net Neutrality protections in 2015.  What was the Internet like before that?  Were there widespread problems? Was the Internet broken?

By all accounts, the Internet continued to flourish. The number of users world wide increased to just shy of 50% of the world population.  Number of devices connected approached 10 billion. Usage became near ubiquitous.  By all accounts things were going great.

Certainly, many people worry that cable and phone companies could start changing things, charging for fast lanes or offering preferential content.  And there were a few instances where cable companies were caught throttling content.  Public outcry quickly resolved the issue without government intervention. But that hardly constitutes serious problems requiring immediate regulation.

The Internet already includes fast lanes for large dot coms, just under a different banner

Okay, this is a bit more of a technical point, but large dot coms already received preferential treatment by ISPs and pay them for the privilege. How you might ask?  By placing their web servers at key junctions and server farms of the ISP themselves. For example, Google could, if they wanted, place a Google server at strategic locations in Comcast’s network to reduce the time it takes for Google users to access Google resources. Because of the location, users experience a faster service. Google would pay Comcast for that access.  Only large dot coms can afford such preferential treatment.  You never hear about Net Neutrality proponents discussing this “privilege”, yet the outcome if fundamentally the same as paying for fast lanes.

Net Neutrality gives preferential treatment to some companies

“Four feet good.  Two feet bad.” If dot coms are considered four footed companies and cable/phone companies are considered two footed, then yeah that’s basically how Net Neutrality rolls.  Okay, I get it.  Cable companies suck.  They are notoriously awful, with the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of pretty much any company in this country. Nobody likes them. And for a whole host of good reasons. But Net Neutrality is not the way to address the problem. Some Net Neutrality proponents argue that without net neutrality, four footed companies wouldn’t be able to innovate as well.  Yet they deny that same capability for innovation to two foot companies.  Essentially, they want to pick marketplace winners and losers through regulation.  That is an immoral approach to governance because it denies companies the freedom to act, to do what is necessary for their own improvement.

As a possible case in point, imagine if a new computer virus that plagues Netflix videos.  With Net Neutrality enacted, ISPs would be disallowed from restricting the Netflix videos even if doing so could stop the spread of the virus. This proactive screening would be considered illegal.  For all of the “good intentions” of Net Neutrality, the negative consequences will undoubtedly impact our lives because it’s premised on an immoral source of controlling other’s behavior.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today.  If I have made a mistake on one of the facts above, please share it in the comments.  I do hope, however, that whether you agree or disagree, these facts give you some food for thought.

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