Net Neutrality Redux

Here’s something I posted awhile back.  Given the FCC’s 3-2 decision today, I thought it was worthy of a repost. 

Stay with me here, this is liable to get complicated.

Netneutralitycopy1My first instinct when it came to this subject was to pooh-pooh government regulation of what amounts to a private pipeline. The Internet, after all, is an electronic pipe that delivers information on demand and unbiased by location. In other words, you have access to the same information regardless of where you are on the network. (That’s the beauty of TCP/IP.)

Since an Internet service provider owns the broadband network infrastructure, they should be allowed to manage it and charge what the market will bear. Consumers will regulate the value and price of delivery through the usual dynamics of supply and demand.

Makes sense, right? Let’s look a little more closely.

Enter Comcast, for example. (And there are other examples. I’m picking on Comcast because I’m a former Comcast employee, sorta.)

Comcast and others have decided that they will prioritize the delivery of Internet traffic based on the information provider’s ability to pay. This means that an information provider can pay Comcast to move its information faster than a competitor. Plus, if I’m a high-volume information provider, I’m using up a whole lot more of Comcast’s bandwidth to deliver my information. Therefore, if I’m using more of Comcast’s resources to move my information, it should cost me more, right?

While this sorta makes sense in the context of a Netflix streaming service, or iTunes Movie delivery, when you consider the second and third order effects, this concerns me.

Comcast owns the National Broadcasting Company, or NBC and all of its entertainment and news operations. Let’s suppose hypothetically that Comcast decides that it will give top priority to Internet delivery of its NBC News products and relegate other news organizations to a lower priority. Comcast understandably wants to you to see their advertisements in their news products instead of those of their competition. That means that if you’re a Comcast subscriber, online access to NBC News products would be easier to find, more readily available, faster to download, featured in ads and otherwise presented to the consumer IN LIEU OF products from other news outlets.

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Taken to the extreme, since Comcast owns NBC, they may make an economic decision to offer ONLY NBC News products on their network by routing all Internet searches for news and current events to NBC resources. This would have the effect of censoring all news and information from any other source but Comcast’s NBC News.

And Comcast isn’t the only one who would likely engage in such a scenario.

Time Warner, Cox, Verizon all would likely strike similar deals with information providers who would collectively decide what information gets priority on their networks and what gets relegated to the basement of Internet transfer speeds, ultimately limiting what your eyeballs can see.

Do you want your access to information limited in any way just because of the company you’ve chosen to deliver your Internet service? Do you want your Internet provider deciding what news source you’re likely to see?

I don’t.

I have no objections to the CONSUMER paying higher prices for using greater capacity. I have a problem with Internet service providers deciding for me whose information is more valuable. The value of any given piece of information is a decision that individuals should make for themselves.

If there were multiple broadband Internet service providers available nationwide, I’d not be too awfully worried about the issue as the marketplace would have multiple choices from which to choose information they want. But in most cases, there exists a duopoly or, as it is in my hometown, only a monopoly on broadband Internet service. In these communities, market forces can’t apply and if the ISP limits the delivery of certain kinds of information, what’s a consumer to do?

Since broadband Internet service in a given community is more often than not limited to one or two companies, it becomes more like a utility than not and should be regulated appropriately. No single company should have the power to limit news and information provided through their networks given the public’s reliance on it.

Internet service is no longer a luxury. It’s a must-have. Schools rely on it. We voters rely on it for the delivery of facts and opinion. In fact, broadband Internet service has become so important that it serves the public, and therefore the public interest.

Keep the information flowing to the public without bias, without limiting choices and ideas and without commercial interest censoring it.