Net Neutrality is a hot topic in the United States. On the one hand, you have people claiming that government should stay out of the internet. On the other hand, you have people claiming that the internet is much too important to leave in the hands of a few immense telecoms.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is fairly simple. There are many people who will tell you it’s the “government controlling the internet” or “Obamacare for the internet.” This is useless propraganda.
Net Neutrality is the idea that all traffic is treated the same, regardless of its source or destination. From the college student looking at cat photos to the government contractor submitting plans for a new missle prototype: if it’s going over the internet, the packets carrying the information are treated the same.
Why is this important? Well, Comcast has a service, Stream, that competes with Netflix. There are two ways to make money by sidestepping Net Neutrality: Comcast can tell Netflix “pay us a buttload of money every year or we’ll make sure your little streaming service is unusably slow for our customers.” Netflix now has to pony up or lose a large segment of paying customers. On the flipside, Comcast can throttle Netflix and start marketing their Stream service so their customers will more naturally flock away from Netflix.
That’s one example. There are a number of things telecoms can do if Net Neutrality is not enforced:
- Throttle competing services
- Sell tiered internet plans:
- $50 for Basic (Google, Facebook, Twitter)
- $70 for Premium (Basic + CSS, Fox, and 12 other news websites)
- $120 for Platinum (all websites)
- Block websites outright.
The principals of Net Neutrality are clearly pro-consumer. Having equal access to all information on the internet without any kind of gatekeeper forcing you into various acceptable pathways is what our country is about: open exchange of ideas.
So why don’t telecoms enforce Net Neutrality?
The problem(s) with the internet in the US
Most big telecoms abhor Net Neutrality as they see it as a barrier to their profit margins. They don’t want to treat traffic equally, going so far as to say it hinders their free speech.
But won’t the free market solve this problem? The answer is “not really.” The free market, as it exists in its current climate, has solved this problem. We are already looking at the solution: A handful of large players, dividing up service areas on gentleman’s agreements, effectively self-enforcing a one-company-per-area monopoly for any given town. In essense, there is no choice in ISP, other than to move to another town.
Another problem is that given that these companies act as gateways to the world’s online information, they are given cash infusions by various governments in order to expand their networks. These expansions either don’t happen at all or if they do, are miniscule compared to the promises made.
In the cases where people decide their town should build fiber lines that are truly owned by the public, the telecoms will file suit and run propaganda campaigns in the towns in order to fight what is essentially free-market competition (with a municipality entering the market as a competitor).
- Telecoms are monopolies in the US. There is no “choice” in most locations.
- Telecoms block any competitive choice through collusion or through passing legislation blocking municipal broadband.
- The people of the US have invested billions in telecom infrastructure, but are told we have no choice when deciding the flow of information through the networks we’ve invested in.
The solution: Municipal fiber
Net Neutrality has been ping-ponging in the FCC for a while now. Things were looking good with Wheeler in charge. Now things look dark with Pai. If there is a decisive win either way, the battle will move to congress. Telecoms are pouring money by the truckload into their anti-Net Neutrality campaigns. At the same time there are a vocal group of people fighting to protect NN.
The battle will rage tirelessly for years to come unless we change our methods.
We need to move the battle out of the federal government and into local municipalities. We need to crush the telecoms with public infrastructure. We need fiber in our towns, and LTE towers in our rural areas, all publically owned and operated. Then we can rent out the infrastructure to whoever wants to compete on it.
This creates a level playing field for true competition, while putting the supporting infrastructure where it belongs: in the hands of the public. We have municipal roads. We have municipal water. We have, in many places, municipal power.
It’s time for municipal fiber.
This will end the stranglehold telecoms have on our information. It allows the free market to solve the issue of Net Neutrality through competition, making it something that no longer needs regulatory protection.
The Net Neutrality activists win. The free market fundamentalists win. The only losers are the entrenched powers that are squeezing your wallet while tightening their grip on the flow of information.
Talk to your city/county/state representatives about municipal fiber.