….and politics is dollars too!
I had written a post on what Net Neutrality is why we need Neutrality. The simplest way to look at Neutrality is with this analogy — we want the transport providers (such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and others) to be viewed the same way we do the electricity providers or water providers. More specifically, many consumers in the US have the option to buying the transport of electricity (think of the wires and lines) from a different company that provides the electrical energy. Of course, we would like the consumer options to be as simple as possible. But what we don’t want is your electricity company deciding whether you should buy a Samsung TV or Sony TV. We don’t want them deciding if you should have central air-conditioning or split air-conditioning. Of course, they can charge you more if you are a particularly “heavy” user, but they still cannot decide what electrical loads you should use.
The electricity analogy is not entirely a classroom example. In fact, government thinks Internet transport should be held by the same regulations as electric utility, railroads via the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
What are the current events all about?
Lobbying is complex. Court hearings and trials are even more complex. They have the best lawyers fighting for their clients. Except, now, the fighting is not about what regulations should apply to them. But whether the regulations should apply to them. The Telecommunications Act exempted information service providers (such as Google or Yahoo or AOL) from these regulations, because, in their mind, rightly so, they should innovate and compete for the consumer mindshare/ marketshare.
The lawyers are now fighting an extremely bizarre case where they are trying to re-classify the transport providers as Information Services, so they can be in bed with the information super-powers (like Google) to alter the consumer’s view of the Internet, in a way that increases their profits.
This fight is about who is deemed a Common Carrier (which is regulated) and who is deemed an Information Service (which is not regulated). The Internet as you see it will significantly vary depending on which company’s services you use and what regulations apply to them.
Why you cannot leave this to free-markets
A free-market purist will say — leave everything to the companies and let government get out of the way. Doing so will increase collusions, back-door partnerships and branding of Internet (such as a “Google Internet” or a “Yahoo Internet”). As a normal user, we want access to all content, regardless they are big or small, credible or not, good or bad. Of course, Google and Yahoo can compete on becoming your search engine of choice, but Comcast shouldn’t be able to decide which one you pick or set price points for accessing one or the other.
Besides, free-markets work when, all things being equal, consumer can switch to competition fairly effortlessly. But the reality in US is that corporations captivate market geographies by not opening up the last mile for competition. We want your area power company to deliver power, regardless of the source of energy.
Free-markets is a double-edged sword
Ideally, if the transport providers need to increase their profits, they can jack up the price of consumption without affecting its neutrality — but free-markets will ensure they don’t get too greedy. On the other hand, if government gets out of the way, they will create alliances and partnerships — which will ultimately make the www less competitive.
Our generations saw the greatest invention ever in the making, but we are likely to also witness how meddling with the democracy, openness and transparency of the Internet will ultimately make us the biggest losers.
Counter-argument: The most credible counter-argument (which is still not credible enough, IMO) I have heard is — so what if carriers control your content? It is already happening with Cable TVs, right?
My POV as follows:
Cable networks in US are notorious for their uncompetitiveness, extravagant price points etc.. Technologies like Roku and app networks like Apple, Android are already threatening the cable industry which would rather have status-quo.
Besides, the impact of anti-trust and monopoly issues with cable networks is highly localized. With internet, where US still plays a significant role, the entire world will be affected with their access to Internet.