Once again, net neutrality is in the news. I’ve been getting questions about it: what net neutrality is, and whether it is important. Let me explain the situation and tell you why you need to take net neutrality very seriously.
To simplify the subject, being “net neutral” means handling all bits of data on a network equally, regardless of their source. It is a bit more complex than that, but it is a good start to understanding the issue.
So, for example, if an internet service provider (ISP) were to give you fast access to example1.com and slow access to example2.com, they would be violating net neutrality.
Why would they want to do this? Well, if the ISP owns or has a stake in example1.com but not example2.com, that would be one reason. Another reason is that example1.com is harmless to their business, but example2.com competes with their business. Or, perhaps example1.com is paying them for the faster access, while example2.com is not. Or, individual home users are paying extra for faster access to example1.com.
You can’t play favorites with net neutrality in place. But without it, ISPs can and almost certainly will. Why wouldn’t they? They stand to make more money and boost their own businesses and partners.
So let’s look at an example that hits home for me, and hopefully for you. How might net neutrality affect MacMost.com?
Well, let’s say that FCC rules concerning net neutrality ends and Congress fails to enact any legislation to replace it. So: no more net neutrality.
The first thing that may happen is that ISPs, like your cable modem provider, telecom, or mobile provider, decide to offer a “fast lane” for big players. So Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google and others are offered a deal to pay cash to see their services perform well on that network. Otherwise, they are put in the “slow lane” and their business suffers and customers move to other services.
If that sounds unlikely, consider that it already happened. In 2014, before the current state of net neutrality which began in 2015, Comcast started charging Netflix for good speed on their network.
Without net neutrality, ISPs will start charging all of these services for fast access to you, the home customer. So Netflix can expect to pay each and every ISP across the country. And so will Hulu, Amazon, Apple, Google, and so on.
OK, so big deal. These companies are all rich and have plenty of money, right? Well, once the ISPs are done with the big companies, they will have no reason not to do the same for medium and small web sites and services as well. All they need to do is look at their statistics, cross-reference that with domain name registrations, and send out notices to sites like MacMost.com that we can also pay for “fast lane” access, or be relegated to the “slow lane” or perhaps get no access at all to their customers.
They can set up a payment portal system. I would log on, set up an account, and start paying $10 or $30 or $100 per month for access to one ISP’s customers. Then I have to do the same for dozens of ISPs, all of which want to get what would amount to millions of dollars from medium and small web sites and services. Why wouldn’t they do this?
And ISPs can double-dip as well. You see, they have two customers. On the one end, they have the web sites and services, and on the other end, they have the home and business users — you. So why not also charge extra at that end? In addition to the monthly bill you already pay, they can set up packages. So you pay a base fee, plus extra for streaming video services, extra for social media sites, extra for faster software updates and downloads, and so on.
So this will hurt current web sites and services. For a few big streaming services, these payments could mean the difference between success and failure. So you may see less competition and higher prices for those services.
Certainly for medium and small web sites it could spell disaster. I can easily see my payments to these ISPs going above $1,000 per month, considering I serve up a lot of video. At that point, it just may not make sense for me to continue with MacMost. Some of your other favorite sites may go away as well. Even a tiny blog could find itself destroyed by its own success if sudden popularity leads to the decision to stay in the “slow lane” or pay for the “fast lane.”
What may even be worse is how this affects the future of the Internet. An entrepreneur, blogger, filmmaker, app developer or other small business may simply find it too cost prohibitive to even start their Internet-based business. So some web site that should be the next-big-thing in 2021 never even gets started. Imagine if this happened to Facebook in 2004 or Pinterest in 2009?
But in the end these ISPs are independent companies and regulation is bad, right? They should get to do what they want and let the market decide. Right?
The problem is that all of these ISPs have been propped up by government-granted monopolies, subsidies, technology and infrastructure paid for by your tax dollars. The reason you may only have one cable company and one telecom in your neighborhood is because that is all your local government allows. And those companies love that. No free market there. They can do what they like, pretty much. Well, they could except for net neutrality. Once that is gone, everything is bound to change.
So what can you do? Here is more information and ways that you can make your voice heard. It looks like on December 14, the FCC will remove net neutrality protections, but that just means the fight is getting started. One way to get it back is to have Congress enact legislation to install net neutrality as the law of the land. So contact your senators and representatives and let them know how you feel.