The Case AGAINST Net Neutrality

I’ve been hearing a lot of whining about so-called “net neutrality” lately. For those of you who aren’t up to speed on this subject, you can read the full definition here, but here’s the basic rundown; In 2010 there FCC created a regulation that essentially mandated all Internet traffic was to be considered “equal”, preventing ISP’s from engaging in anti-competitive practices by blocking other networks, throttling access speeds, or otherwise being dicks to each other. This regulation was created in spite of the fact that there hadn’t been a single incident of any US-based ISP engaging in such a practice, or any similar practices that net neutrality supporters claim to be worried about. Unless you want to count the time Comcast throttled a P2P network that had infected many of its subscribers systems with Malware, of course…

Long story short, it was unnecessary legislation and earlier this year a federal appeals court struck it down. But the FCC hasn’t given up the fight, and neither have the supporters. So here’s my take on the subject…

You people who want this legislation are freaking nuts.

First, the notion that all traffic should be considered “equal” is flawed. Do you think ISP’s should be allowed to prioritize bandwidth to, say, a life alert service for the elderly? Or perhaps reserve/dedicate bandwidth for VOIP carriers to preserve call quality? Or maybe block a network harboring spammers and scammers? If the answer to any of those is yes, be glad net neutrality was struck down – because none of that would be possible if the regulation was in force.

You see, the legislation as it existed wasn’t a bill discouraging de-prioritization of a competitive nature. That’s what the supporters always claimed it was, but that’s not what it actually was. As it was written, no traffic or sources could receive preferential handling. Based on that fact alone, striking it down was a win for all of us, not a loss.

Supporters seem to forget that the Internet has been mainstream for more than 20 years now, and ISP’s could have been engaging in anti-competitive practices and all of the things the supporters are afraid of all along… but they didn’t. Why? Because it’s bad for business. In this day and age, a company caught blocking or throttling the service level to another network would very quickly be “outed”. If a company like Verizon were to say “We’re going to throttle Netflix” with the hopes that more people would subscribe to their own streaming service, it would result in a mass exodus of their customers in their largest, most competitive markets, switching away to another provider. Verizon’s competitors would jump on the opportunity and spend millions running ads saying “Verizon throttles netflix, we don’t, switch to us”. Remember, they could have done this all along… but they never will, they can’t afford the loss of customers and the negative press they’ll receive. Companies don’t recover from stuff like that. Competition, not government, is what keeps them in check.

I know that example won’t convince everyone, but that’s OK, there’s more to it than that. Aside from the fact that we haven’t needed the government telling ISP’s what can and cannot be prioritized, if you know anything about the legislative process then you also know that laws undergo multiple amendments and exemptions once they’re in place. So let’s play this out for a minute…

Let’s say Net Neutrality was not struck down, and all traffic had to be considered equal under federal mandate. Suddenly, Vonage cries foul because voice data is no longer given the preference it’s always been given, and now they can’t meet their service level guarantee. So they lobby congress and an amendment is made to the bill, allowing VoIP traffic an exemption. Then other industries complain because their services are now being throttled to benefit the telcos, so more exceptions are made.

In the end what happens is government decides what traffic and companies are “important” and what isn’t.

Why on earth would anyone prefer to let the government make decisions instead of voting with their own dollars? All Net Neutrality would have done is transfer power from the people to the government and the largest ISP’s who can afford to hire lobbyists. Competitive network throttling is NOT a problem in the USA, there is no need for preemptive legislation to prevent it.

And for those who would say “I live in a rural area and we only have one provider”, that doesn’t matter – the fact that that provider also operates in areas where there IS competition will still prevent them from implementing anti-competitive policies. If a big ISP decided to throttle a small town, their customers in the metro areas would cancel their service on principle, and the ISP’s know it.

By striking down Net Neutrality, “We the people” are the winners. We preserved our rights by not transferring them to government.

Also, keep in mind that bandwidth throttling works both ways. With NN out of the picture, ISP’s can openly prioritize certain networks. So an ISP, if they choose to, could allocate dedicated bandwidth to Netflix to ensure the best quality streaming to all customers. I would gladly pay more to an ISP that gave Netflix a little bit of preferential treatment.

Choice is always a better answer than government.

7 replies
  1. Garko
    Garko says:

    this subject was only on the perimeter of my radar. i took a moment to respect and read a contrasting opinion based on reason. glad i did. the last sentence of your article is all I need to be on board with your perspective. i dont fully understand the issue but i agree with your fundamental perspective. thanks.

    Reply
  2. Kirk Kleinschmidt
    Kirk Kleinschmidt says:

    Ron,

    Gotta disagree with you on this one.

    I’m no fan of mindless government regulation, but the big telcos of today are completely short-sighted when it comes to any regulation of anything. Corporations used to “make” stuff…but they now only make “shareholder value.” Big, modern ISPs would sell their mothers into the sex trade if they could get away with it and it created short-term revenue (shareholder value).

    If no controls are enacted, the internet won’t evolve into “fast traffic and faster, premium traffic,” it will be “crap-slow traffic or pay us ridiculous fees” traffic.

    Small companies and upstart innovators will be automatically priced out of the market if this trend continues.

    Telcos are the Robber Barons of the modern era. Unfortunately, they need to be reminded that the internet IS a public resource and not just a playground for extracting maximum financial gain at the expense of everything and everyone.

    –Kirk in MN

    Reply
    • Ron Rule
      Ron Rule says:

      I’d agree if there were instances of this happening, but after 20+ years there haven’t been any. If it ever starts we can address it then, I just don’t see the need for preemptive legislation to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and creates more problems in its wake.

      Reply
      • Justin M.
        Justin M. says:

        It’ not pre-emptive or speculative at all, Ron. Other Telcos around the world which don’t have any restrictions or oversight and also have an iron grip on the market are already doing it. Big telcos in the US salivate over the kinds of paychecks companies like Viber are handing out.

        I’m also taken aback by your suggestion that there has been no cases of throttling that you’ve seen in 20 years. This is something we have hard data on. Back in 2009 Google created a suite of tools which allows users to monitor their ISP. Glasnosts is a tool that specifically checks for throttling. Here are the results of thousands of tests in a pretty little interactive infographic http://www.measurementlab.net/transparency

        You have way too much trust in corporations, Ron.

        Reply
        • Ron Rule
          Ron Rule says:

          It’s not trust in corporations so much as a lack of trust in government to remain impartial ;) Whether it’s been a problem in other countries or not isn’t relevant, it hasn’t been a problem HERE in 20+ years and I don’t expect striking down a ruling that’s only been around for 3 years to suddenly make them start. If it does, we can always address it if it happens, but in the meantime there’s no need to transfer freedom of choice to the government.

          Reply
          • Justin M.
            Justin M. says:

            Of course it’s relevant. They are all in the same business. And you glossed over the part where I mentioned that throttling IS happening now in the United States and there is data to tests to prove it. Please revisit the link above.

            Also, I don’t believe that the government is taking away my freedoms by telling telcos that all internet internet traffic be treated equal. The government also does not allow us to kill or steal, this isn’t a encroach on our freedoms.

            And the “Meh, let’s just worry about it if & when it happens” is the same kind of mentality that brought us the BP Oil spill repair and cleanup.

            Much better to be pro-active with these greedy corps — agree?! ;)

          • Ron Rule
            Ron Rule says:

            Not really – “greedy corps” become more powerful once government is in the middle because they have the ability to lobby for exemptions. As for what’s happening “now”, the stats you reference can be attributed to AUP-related throttling, anti-spam/phishing, etc. But we can agree to disagree on the rest. I just think we as consumers are better off voting with our dollars by not doing business with providers engaging in practices we don’t agree with than letting the government decide what an ISP can or cannot do within their networks.

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