My Two Cents on Net Neutrality
“When institutions (China) start screwing around with routers preferences fire walls and censorship, really bad stuff starts happening; often its insidious. ” ~ Google CEO Eric Schmidt circa 2008
According to a May 2010 Pew study, 79% of American adults use the internet. Over 90% of users use the internet to send or read email; 80% of users use a search engine to find information. It is now second nature to most American’s to turn to the internet to ‘google’ information, post or view videos on YouTube, wirelessly upload photos from smartphones to Flickr or post status updates on numerous social media platforms. Not forgetting, the rise of the blogosphere the past decade.
Users race to purchase the latest and greatest electronics to facilitate these activities. These consumers are just as quick to jump to providers that offer a better service at a lower price. I’m reminded of AOL offering a flat fee for unlimited dial up internet access back in the mid nineties. How long did it take other internet providers to offer the same?
Now it is being proposed that government oversight is needed in the form of Net Neutrality?
For those just joining the conversation, Net Neutrality broadly defined means that internet users have the right to unfettered access to the internet. ISP’s shall not be allowed to monkey with users abilty to access content. Another view of net neutrality sees this simply as a power grab by a government. As Eric Schmidt stated, when institutions start screwing with the net..bad stuff happens.
The principle of Net Neutrality makes me squeemish and every time this subject comes up in conversation, I’m always reminded of the short story ‘Harrison Bergeron‘. Right now in real life, if Comcast interrupts internet service one more time on the weekend, I’m switching to Verizon. Working withing the constraints of ’Net Neutrality’ both ISP’s would be required to provide equally crappy internet service. There would be no reason for either company to pursue innovative pricing or technology to maintain their customer base. A competitive market environment would be a better check on the ISP’s and continue to be an incentive for ISP’s to produce a better product for internet users.
We know from experience (obamacare, etc) that any type of government involvement inserts additional layers of complexity between the user and product. More layers of bureacracy equals less control consumers have over a product they have freely purchased. The more control in the hands of consumers results in robust internet access for all. As of now, an open internet is already in the hands of consumers.
Although the FCC produced non binding principles on net neutrality, Google and Verizon have proceeded with proposing a framework for net neutrality legislation. Their proposal would allow users “to choose any lawful content, services or applications they want; in other words, they can choose whatever Internet service they want, go to whatever legal Web sites they want, and use whatever software or applications they want.” These are services internet users already have access to right here, right now. the proposal includes micromanagement tools such as ISP content management transparency and limiting the prioritizing of internet traffic. Bandwidth can always be increased, why place limits on it? Overall, I don’t see anything in this proposal that would incentivize ISP’s to provide better technology or protect consumers. What I need to to see is evidence based data, not speculative opinion on this issue. Both Google and Verizon have failed to produce any convincing data to back up their proposal. Would it not be better to consider any alleged act of abuse by an ISP on a case-by-case basis then enact over reaching legislation based on speculation?
In fairness, this is just a proposal that politicians can either use or ignore. The great unknown stems from what regulations will be promoted by legislators. In the end, it will come down to who the public trusts more with keeping the internet ‘open’ – an ISP invested in internet technology or the US Congress.
Living in Philadelphia, I’ve witnessed first hand the slow delivery of technology due directly to city government and union interference. Philadelphia county was the last county to gain access to cable networks, a decade behind the rest of the state. It was only last year that Verizon inked a deal with city council to expand FiOS internet access into Philadelphia. I’ve been down the road Verizon, Google and Net Neutrality supporters would like to take this nation. I know exactly where it ends and I know it is not a place we want to go.
That’s my two cents, what are your thoughts on this subject?