The Internet is a body of people. And they are speaking out on net neutrality. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s the most democraticforum we’ve ever had in the history of the world. All the people communicating all the time. Whether you love or hate the role it has taken in our society – and sometimes I do hate it – you will get called to task by the people if you do something on or offline that upsets the people.
That’s how the need for net neutrality came to light. It didn’t come from the government. It certainly didn’t come from the carriers. It came from us. From the people using the Internet to entertain themselves and others, to find lifesaving or trivial information, to promote their business and buy goods and services.
It came from everybody who said, “Hey, wait a minute! Why is my Netflix buffering and buffering and buffering. What’s going on?”
Netflix is like, “Well, now that you mention it, the carriers are throttling us. They want us to pay a premium just to get our stuff delivered.” Which Netflix had to do, and did do, in February of 2014. They and Comcast made a joint announcement that was very carefully worded to make it sound like a gentleman’s business agreement:
“Comcast and Netflix today announced a mutually beneficial interconnection agreement that will provide Comcast’s U.S. broadband customers with a high-quality Netflix video experience for years to come. Working collaboratively over many months, the companies have established a more direct connection between Netflix and Comcast, similar to other networks, that’s already delivering an even better user experience to consumers, while also allowing for future growth in Netflix traffic. Netflix receives no preferential network treatment under the multi-year agreement, terms of which are not being disclosed.”
“Netflix reaches streaming traffic agreement with Comcast”
February 23, 2014
They weren’t paying more to get into special fast lanes, they were just payingto get their stuff delivered at the same speed as any other information being sent over the Internet.
Net neutrality was proposed to keep the thumb of a few off all the rest of the private industries that depend on Internet traffic in order to conduct business. The contention that “businesses” are in control of everyone’s Internet access is false. As is the perception that this is a political issue.
Zach Green, founder of @UniteBlue, tweeted:
“#NetNeutrality was never Democrat vs. Republican, or about government control. It’s about 3 corporations vs every other person on the planet.”
The loudest opponents to net neutrality weren’t looking at the facts. They were making an ideological argument that government is never the answer. Never?
Would you like to put private industry in charge of deciding where stop signs go? Imagine a world where Walmart was in charge of street signs. Without “street sign neutrality” they could place them only at intersections where there was a Walmart on the corner. Every street light in town would be timed to get you directly to the nearest Walmart as quickly as possible. Every street light leading away would be set to red for five or six minutes.
As with any contentious issue, the hysteria reached a fever pitch with the dire end of the world coming because the Internet was going to be treated as a utility.
Net neutrality? Worst example of government intervention … ever? Elian Gonzalez might disagree. Members of the Cherokee Nation might disagree.
Appropriate Governmental Role
People think that no one can control the Internet and that’s just not true. A small handful of major carriers control your access to the Internet. Google, who gave up on “don’t be evil” a long time ago, wasn’t originally one of them. They’re now trying to see how it feels to control everything by bringing free fiber to entire towns. Great, your whole town now has super-fast Internet. But who controls that fiber line? Google. We’re not saying that Bing search results wouldn take 10x longer to load than Google searches, but they could … without net neutrality.
That’s the problem with controlling the means by which information travels. It gives you the ability to control the information itself. That could never happen in America, could it? And the people wouldn’t rise up in protest and cause change, would they?
In the late 1600’s, the British government told the governor of Massachusetts, “Great inconvenience may arise by the liberty of printing.” Inconvenience to whom? When the Founding Fathers gave “decent respect to the opinions of mankind by declaring the causes which impelled them to separation,” they didn’t include “He has controlled the means by which we distribute information,” but you know it was on their minds. First Amendment anyone?
Not to bring in the big gun so early, but that’s why net neutrality had to happen. It doesn’t matter that right now private industry is handling things “just fine.” They were stealthily trying to find ways to make more money by controlling the traffic. It wasn’t censorship of content. It was following the money. But Comcast messed with our entertainment when they throttled Netflix. That’s how we found out about it. People are vigilant. The internet does not take kindly to buffering during their Game of Thrones binge marathon.
So “the Internet,” and access to it, is not a private thing to be controlled by private industry. The Internet is a public utility that private industry should be allowed to capitalize on. If I, as a business owner, can’t capitalize on it the same way any other business owner can, then my business is strangled. If access is not neutral, if the flow of traffic is not neutral, then creativity will be stifled, progress will be slowed and technological innovation will stop in its tracks.
Everybody thinks the Internet is private property. While the lines, routers and boxes are owned by the carrier, “the Internet” isn’t owned. It’s not private property. It’s like the airwaves. Broadcasters own towers and satellites; they don’t control the air. Anyone can transmit if they have the right equipment. But the FCC regulates the airwaves so we’re not bombarded with signals from every Tom, Dick, and Harry. They still have the right to speak wherever they can get coverage, or through means such as public access because they do have access, but they have to follow the rules like everyone else.
As I said in the beginning of this, that’s the beauty of the Internet. Everyone can have their own YouTube channel, their own blog, their own Twitter feed where they can say what they like, when they like. With net neutrality, you can watch whatever you like, when you like, at the same speed your neighbor does, even if he’s watching something completely different.
Small Businesses Need Net Neutrality
As much as my business is growing, we’re still a small business. While I have a powerful creative and technological resource in my team, I don’t have the resources that Netflix was able to apply toward getting their data delivered. What if the carriers decided that everyone had to pay to play based on the amount of data they sent and received (yes, I realize this was the case in the beginning), or based on the level of need a company had, or based on the type of data you were sending?
Small businesses like mine would be crushed. I can’t afford to pay more for the same traffic. Or for special access. It would put us out of business. That would hurt my clients, who depend on our access for the delivery of our services. If we don’t have the same kind of access to traffic, the way any application provider or cloud-based service does, then we’re sunk.
Innovation would come to a grinding halt because technology is all about the cloud right now. The Facebook post that they’re trolling to hate my comments, the Twitter account they’re using to tweet about the worst government intervention … ever, began as small, grass-roots, cloud-based projects which would never have survived without neutral access to the Internet.
More Bandwidth and Unfettered Access
What if Alexander Bell had been able to make decisions about whose call went through; perhaps only royalty got priority access? But by exhibiting his new company at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, you just know he meant for it to be a tool for all the people. Now, Bell Telephone eventually became AT&T and they, with a handful of carriers held a lot of control over the country. But that’s because they were the ones that put in all the infrastructure. They owned the means of transmitting voices from one house to the other, but they didn’t own phone traffic. You still had the right to be able to call anybody you wanted; say anything you wanted. You didn’t have one call take priority over another because someone would pay more.
You have just as much right to make a phone call as any Fortune 500 company. You don’t pay more to have priority access to the phone lines. Now, you can pay more to have more telephone lines. Just like you can pay for more bandwidth and for multiple connection to the Internet. You can pay more for infrastructure that’s capable of carrying greater or lesser speeds. But they’re still not judging or regulating what you’re sending over that bandwidth.
Net neutrality says that the data which goes over the line is just the data that goes over the line. One phone call shouldn’t have priority over another and one company’s data shouldn’t have priority over any other.
I care because I’ve got skin in this game. Skin, brains, head and heart. My family, my employees, and their families depend on this company having access to the Internet. My clients depend on this company having access to the Internet.
Businesses need net neutrality. Technology needs net neutrality. Innovation and growth need net neutrality.
And the government should enforce it. Who else would do it? Walmart? Comcast? Me? I vote for me… it would make it that much quicker for me to crush my competition. And that, much as I like the idea, is why net neutrality is a good thing and why the FCC is the right organization to administer it.
Photos from Flickr, Creative Commons license, courtesy of (top to bottom):
https://www.flickr.com/photos/freepress/14720768696 (intro photo)