Net Neutrality is a topic I have covered a lot in other spaces. From talking about The End of Net Neutrality, to covering Why the Internet is Broken, to writing about The Case For A Faster, More Powerful and Affordable American Internet, Net Neutrality is a topic I care deeply about.
For those of you who don’t know what Net Neutrality means, it is the simple concept that consumers can access large scale services (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix) and smaller websites (like this one) at the same speed without cost. Net Neutrality is the leveling force behind the Internet. Without it Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) could specify which websites and content providers consumers could reach at a higher speed for a higher cost and which websites/content providers consumers could reach at a lower speed for lower costs. If you are saying to yourself the fight for Net Neutrality sounds like ISP’s imposing Internet tolls on companies and consumers, you are dead on. The fight for Net Neutrality is the fight to keep the Internet a level playing field sans tolls, taxes or pay to play charges.
The fight for Net Neutrality goes deeper than being able to stream your favorite Netflix content at the same speed and access than your Spotify content. The fight centers on the foundations of the Internet vs. capitalism.
The Foundations of the Internet
The basic question posed by the fight for Net Neutrality is: is the Internet a basic right or is it a pay to play model of business? On it’s head the answer seems simple, it’s pay to play. People all over the world pay ISP’s to provide them with access to the Internet. We all understand this and we have come to terms with it. It isn’t that simple though. Net Neutrality refers to the services on the Internet being offered to consumers on a fair and level playing field not to access of the Internet. For this reason, the answer isn’t simple.
We have come to the understanding that getting on the Internet means paying providers for access however once logged in, the playing field is neutral. Google and Facebook play on the same level field that Wired Magazine and SkinnyTaste do. This the the beauty to Net Neutrality – everyone, regardless of size, scope, reach or monetary influence, plays by the same rules.
Ending Net Neutrality would mean taking the level playing field, installing tolls to gain access to the field and limiting website performance/data delivery based on the size of the toll paid. For the politically minded, ending Net Neutrality draws a similar connection to the US Supreme Court Citizens United decision. Allowing money as speech is akin to allowing money for performance. Net Neutrality, for lack of a better comparison, is Citizens United for the Internet.
It goes without saying, but shifting the playing field that drastically – shifting the playing field to those with all the power – would kill the Internet as we know it. But why?
Open Source Means Everything. Content Means Everything.
The foundations of the Internet, like the foundations of Linux and OpenStack, are found in the world of open source. Open Source, for those who do not know, is development source code open to the public. Commonly called forking, open source coding allows developers to utilize the original source code of a technology and build on it to make a wholly new solution. Open source is so vital to the Internet because it allows for new technologies to pop up and change the face of the open marketplace. Don’t believe me? Just look at Facebook.
As it’s name suggests open source is free and open to everyone. Now imagine if companies couldn’t provide open source code or developers couldn’t access it because of tolls established by ISP’s designed to inhibit and slow access. It isn’t far stretch to say with a tilted playing field, open source programming would be put in jeopardy. If Net Neutrality comes to a close, the open source Internet will come to an end.
The other major player is content. For anyone who follows the digital marketing news or for anyone who follows social media trends, you know that content is more key to the Internet than ever before. With Google putting an emphasis on fresh, intelligent content via Hummingbird, content is key to search and consumer interactions. But what if all content wasn’t delivered in the same fashion. What if, because an ISP didn’t get the monetary toll value they wanted from Netflix, Hulu began streaming in a clearer quicker fashion? What happens when monetary tolls influence ISP’s and they choose what content clients can or can not see or how quickly they can access and view that content? The answer is a slanted playing field in which money means power. The answer is a Citizens United for the Internet.
Google Fiber: An Outside Threat
For the past few years, Google Threat has been a thorn in the side of ISP’s like Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon. Google Fiber has one mission and one mission only: to provide communities around the country with 100 times faster Internet at a lower cost than the large ISP’s. Whereas Verizon and Comcast provide 5mbps connection speeds, Google Fiber provides 1000mbps connection speeds. Coupled with the Facebook led movement Internet.org, Google Fiber has shown up national ISP’s by proving to the public that the American Internet is intentionally slow, the infrastructure it operates on is dying and even though the American Internet ranks 31st in connection speeds when compared to other nations, we pay more.
If we rank 31st in connection speed, if we rank near the top in pay per Internet access and the infrastructure the Internet operates on is dying, why aren’t ISP’s doing anything about it? The answer is simple: money. Most American ISP’s have regional monopolies. Due to this, they have no need to change, provide better services or improve operational infrastructure. This is why Google Fiber is a threat. Fiber is showing regional entrenched ISP’s up at their own game. Yet, instead of keeping pace, as shown time and time again, regional ISP’s like Bell South have taken to suing Google Fiber to keep them out. Essentially, regional ISP’s are suing to prevent the basic tenant upon which they exist – capitalism and free trade.
As noted by Marcus Wohlsen of Wired Magazine in an article titled “How Netflix and Google Could Lead the Fight For Net Neutrality”:
“But here’s where Google could also ride to the rescue. Of all the companies streaming Netflix, Google is the only one where the case for full-on net neutrality makes bottom-line sense. Much like its Android operating system for mobile phones, Google Fiber is not so much a business in itself as a way to feed Google’s core advertising business into more parts of people’s lives.”
“Some have questioned whether the company really wants to become a full-fledged infrastructure company. But as Fiber expands into more cities, Google is getting good practice at acting like one. If traditional ISPs start to squeeze the throttle too tightly in a post-net neutrality world, Google might feel compelled to lay its own fiber to protect its own business interests. In fact, it already owns fiber lines across the country. If other ISPs start abandoning neutrality, metering the flow of data, Google could set itself apart as the net-neutral alternative, stealing broadband customers from the incumbents and setting Netflix free, among others, in the process.”
“To be clear, Google wouldn’t take up this fight for altruistic reasons. Many would argue the company’s stance on net neutrality is far from pure. But other recent acquisitions by Google unrelated to networking show it’s a company moving with new aggressiveness into the physical world. Putting its own pipes in the ground could be one more way of advancing that strategy. If one side effect is freeing up the internet for everyone else, including Netflix, binge watching could become one more piece of our everyday lives colonized by Google.”
For all intents and purposes, Google and Netflix might come to the rescue if only for their own selfish needs. Again, at the end of the day the matter of Net Neutrality comes down to a level playing field spurred on by free market place economics. Even with the recent US Supreme Court decisions, one has to hope Google and Netflix come to the rescue of the American Internet.
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— Brad Leibowitz (@bleibowi) April 30, 2014