You may have heard about Net Neutrality lately. The FCC has recently made a rule change that removes protections that kept those that carry internet traffic from charging extra fees to content providers to allow their services higher priority. You may have heard that the Net Neutrality rules were needless government intervention in the internet and that winy content companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook trying to get their way. I have to disagree with this take. In my opinion the real losers from this change will be the majority of internet users. You and me. We will suffer from the lose of new innovation, the monopolization of content, and an increase in the stranglehold that large corporations have on all that we do. All of the current large companies, whether content companies or ISPs (Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T) will be the winners in losing Net Neutrality and the losers will be you and me and all of those currently not in control.
I wrote several years ago about the risks of losing Net Neutrality, and the risks have come home to roost. Net Neutrality (NN) is a term that means that ISPS (the people who bring the internet connections to your house) can not treat some data differently than other data. The term itself sounds very friendly; neutral. The lose of NN means that ISPs can charge a content provider a higher rate to give their content priority on the network. This can mean that you get your YouTube videos faster than your emails which means higher quality video and shouldn’t impact your emails. That in itself is a good thing. However, we need to be thinking beyond that short term gain. Killing NN will reduce the amount of innovation from NEW PLAYERS in the content area, the very thing that has driven the internet forward since the early days. Many have argued that we didn’t have the NN policy when the internet began and things were just fine, why do we need it now. I was there in the early days, and I can tell you that this wasn’t a policy then because there wasn’t enough money in internet traffic. All the players were ALL small and so who was winning was always changing.
The way the industry stands today, there are two opposing giants. On one hand you have the Googles, the Facebooks, the Amazons (the content companies); on the other hand you have Verizons, Comcasts, and AT&T (the ISPs), and not many others. It’s true that these two groups are competing and with the death of NN the content companies will likely have to pay the ISPs more money if they want their products sent to us, the consumers, faster. But let’s think about which of these two groups is most likely to face new competition.
The ISPs are in the hardware business. They have large infrastructures that have been built up over years and years. They have run last mile connections to many homes and they have peering relationships with each other that basically closes the door on new competition. They even stomp out community based efforts to stand up better internet access in places that aren’t well served by them. They are not likely to face new competitors in their current state. The content companies on the other hand, while they are definitely well entrenched and have their own infrastructures that have been built up over years, face constant competition from every person with an idea. ANYONE can create a new service and put it on the internet to be weighed and evaluated by the world. That is why places like Yahoo, MySpace, AOL, and many many others are now fading or gone; replaced by new companies and Verizon and AT&T are still here, the same as they were 25 years ago when things got started.
So, if the ISPs are the same ones that were here from the beginning and they didn’t abuse their power then, why should we be worried now? The money! The internet has become THE WAY we get most of our news, entertainment, and communication. With NN dead the barriers to entry will go way way up. Likely, Google will have to pay Verizon extra to get their YouTube videos to you. Bad for Google. But very few new companies will be able to raise the money needed to create a competitor to YouTube. We won’t get the new competitors that move things forward and the real losers in all of this will be us the consumers. We will have to pay more for less choice and less innovation.
A neutral net allows new competition, new ideas, and new voices to come through and win on their merits. A non-neutral internet means less competition and more control by those in power today.