I didn’t want to write this. Net Neutrality passed two years ago and despite being a voracious reader and basic news gadfly, I managed to ignore it. I knew it was potentially changing the way we use the internet, but I was busy. Besides, win or lose, I wasn’t going to change my behaviors based on Net Neutrality.
So, I ignored it. And you know what? Nothing happened. I mean to me personally. I congratulated myself on skipping at least one controversy.
And then, of course it came back. Or rather, it went away. Last week the Federal Communication Commission voted to abandon Net Neutrality. Some people took it really hard.
First though, what is it? This isn’t the definitive description, but it was a rule that said Interent Service Providers had to treat everyone equally. That seems fair right? They couldn’t decide they don’t like you, or your favorite website and charge you more to access it, or worse, slow down traffic to your favorite site. Everyone equal. Fair is fair.
Except there were a couple of problems with it. First, fair isn’t fair. The FCC under the previous administration decided that access to the internet needed to regulate like a public utility. Your electric company cannot decide that they are going to charge you a higher rate than your neighbor. The gas company can’t decide that they want to charge you less because you don’t have a gas furnace. The water company cannot decide that since you live in a 4000 square foot home, you have to pay double what the family in the 2000 square foot home pays. Fair is fair. Why not ensure the internet is treated the same way?
Because it’s not the same thing. Suppose the government decided to force other businesses to act like commodities. WalMart is no longer allowed to charge less the same stuff as your corner market. If you want to buy a book, the Amazon price needs to be the same as the neighborhood bookstore. Fair is fair, right?
The market does a pretty good job of setting prices. But, what about companies like Netflix that use a lot of bandwidth. Without Net Neutrality, your ISP could charge you more for Netflix traffic than it does for CNN.com. Is that fair? Absolutely. Why? Because it means that ISPs can optimize their throughput for what their customers actually want to buy. Scarity results in higher prices. But, prices do not rise infinately and they do not rise arbitrarity. The market will set a price where supply and demand match. If an ISP prices Netflix traffic separately and it’s too high? People will abandon the ISP, or they will yell and scream at the ISP. Either way, the ISP, if it wants to keep happy customers, will change it’s pricing.
But, what about places where there is a single ISP that has a monopoly? This is why I didn’t notice anything two years ago. My ISP is a local guy who supplies just our town. If he charges too much, I’ll switch to something else. But, what if there is nothing else?
There is. Most people I know do the majority of their internet browsing through their cell phones. With 5G on the horizon, and cell phones able to act as WiFi routers, it will be less than a year and phone companies will be competing with your local ISP to provide you internet access. You’ve already ditched your local phone for your cell phone, your local internet isn’t far behind.
Put me in the anti-net neutrality camp.
Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer has claimed that the Senate will vote to reinstate Net Neutrality. And that’s actually my other problem with the rule. It was not implemented by Congress. It was an executive order from the previous administration. The current administration didn’t need to repeal a law because Net Neutrality was never subjected to the necessity of getting voted on in Congress.
I am not a big fan of the president unilaterally passing “laws.” Even when it’s a president I woudl otherwise support, I don’t think it’s the role of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to make laws. Ironically, the mechanism to remove Net Neutrality was the same mechanism used to implement it in the first place.
Fair is fair.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
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