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Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 552 – Net Neutrality

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 552 – Net Neutrality

It’s been in the news, on and off, for the better part of a decade. And it’s all about equal (maybe) access to the Internet for all. It’s Net Neutrality.

After all this time, it’s still a difficult concept to get across.

So here’s what it is, according to Stuart Leung of Forbes:

“Net neutrality is the principle that suggests maintaining what we have now—an internet that, according the FCC’s own Open Internet page, ‘uses free, publically available standards that anyone can access and build to, and [that] treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way.’

Net neutrality proponents want to keep the internet as free and democratic as possible.

Opponents of Net Neutrality

Those who are against net neutrality argue that businesses—like Comcast and Time Warner—have every right to offer enhanced services to those who want to pay for them. In fact, the FCC’s proposed updates to allow just this kind of ‘two-tiered’ system sparked the current debate.”

What Does it All Mean?

The concept is, essentially, that cable companies and other gatekeepers should not be in charge of deciding who gets which message faster. All Internet data should flow freely, smoothly, and in more or less the same way.

It should deliver my million-person interstate Candy Crush tournament as quickly as your local town hall political debate as should our neighbor’s logging into his local unemployment website and as fast as a person on the other side of the country bidding on old comic books on eBay. Plus, of course, there’s your Aunt Sylvia who’s streaming Netflix.

Who’s for it?

Nearly all consumers, it seems. According to Forbes, a good 76% of those surveyed by Ask Your Target Market were in favor.

“76% of those surveyed said that internet service providers should not be able to differentiate between high-bandwidth services and other online data.”

Was There a Thumb on the Scale?

However, some of the questioning was weighted rather heavily in favor of Net Neutrality. They also asked survey respondents the negative, e. g. whether they thought that ISPs should be able to “block, slow down, or charge extra for high-bandwidth services.” With that sort of wording, understandably, only 10% of consumers thought that was a good idea.

But what if the survey asked whether it was a good idea to charge less for lower-bandwidth services?

At the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel came out in favor of it. Per vanden Heuvel,

“The importance of preserving net neutrality should be obvious. A tiered {faster speeds for the rich, slower speeds for the poor} Internet will be great for the profits of telecommunications companies, but terrible for entrepreneurs, stifling the kind of innovation that can build massive followings before ever leaving the garage.

The Downside

Not only will big corporations gain an advantage, but also a small handful of them will have the ability to actively interfere with their competition: An Internet provider that offers its own phone service could block access to Skype, for example, or a cable company could disrupt Netflix’s streaming service. Worse yet, sanctioning the creation of ‘fast lanes’ could lead to online discrimination, with the providers choking off controversial views to protect their financial or political interests.”

However, vanden Heuvel doesn’t seem to be taking into account that this stuff’s not free. Speedy Internet needs maintenance, engineering, and good old electricity to run. While a slower ‘net also requires that, the wealthy can (and possibly should) shoulder more of the costs of it. But shouldn’t they get something for their troubles? Or should the cost be spread to everyone?

If that’s the answer, then look for your bills to rise.

Who’s against Net Neutrality?

net neutralityProbably the best-known face of the opposition is presidential candidate Rand Paul. But so is Forbes‘s own Joshua Steimle. Steimle notes that the new Net Neutrality rules essentially add governmental control (hence Rand Paul’s main objection).

Steimle also says that one of the bigger issues is a lack of competition.

Consumers generally have Internet choices that devolve to a phone company or a cable company (per Computerworld, over half of Americans have only one choice for high-speed Internet access).

Verizon FiOs only exists in some major markets and it’s unlikely to get an expansion. But whose ‘fault’ is this?

If cable and phone companies, or Verizon, are having trouble competing in some markets, isn’t that how the free market is actually supposed to work? Better competitors stay in business; those which can’t compete, don’t.

The Government

But getting back to the government’s involvement. Per Steimle, putting the government squarely in the midst of how the Internet is delivered could turn into a privacy issue – and the US government doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation for preserving people’s privacy (in all fairness, neither does Facebook). But since when did evening out data speeds translate into online snooping?

Steimle also feels that freedom is being curtailed, and that the government, which has started unsupported wars and even placed people into internment camps in the past isn’t necessarily the greatest guardian of individual liberties.

But citing FDR’s policies, which were in force over 70 years ago, seems like Steimle is clutching at straws. Yes, the government’s done some rotten things. It’s also done some great ones. Anyone can cherry-pick this argument as they please.

What Makes Sense?

Perhaps the two most vital ways to address this matter are –

  • Even out the playing field when it comes to hardware. Yes, hardware! This means digging up the ground and putting in state of the art fiber optics all over the place, and not just in major cities. Does this help out FiOs? Yes and no – it would certainly better make their case for them.

But if the hardware isn’t available out in, say, rural Kentucky, then the free market isn’t serving the people. If the hardware playing field is more level, then other playing fields can level out. After all, if someone who has the cash to purchase faster Internet speeds but the tools are just not there for them to buy, then it’s as if they’re unable to afford them. The effect is identical.

What else?

  • Make it easier for companies to compete. This should happen with access to better hardware all around. As Steimle says, a lot of this situation is the fault of telecoms not competing in a truly free marketplace. If consumers have choices, they will vote with their wallets, and for better service. But right now, too many consumers have no choice, or an illusory choice (between two large companies) in the matter.

Upgrade the infrastructure. Add consumer choice. And, I feel, a lot of the fight about Net Neutrality will go away.