How many times a day do you check your Facebook page? Are you active on Twitter? Do you have a favorite blog you like to read?
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself unable to do these things without paying significant additional fees, fees on top of what you already pay for Internet access, to do so?
Essentially, this is what the end of net neutrality could mean. There are many people who don’t understand the concept or the issues involved, so here is a primer.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is a buzz phrase that refers to the open Internet. Currently, all Internet sites are able to be accessed equally. You can get to thejournalista.com as quickly as you can get to Facebook or Amazon. There is no deterrent to surfing the web outside of any firewalls that may be put up by your employer or school. Net neutrality means things would stay this way. You will always be able to access any website you want at any time you want so long as your Internet access point allows it.
Why should you care?
Remember how it was announced recently that Netflix would be increasing its service cost for new subscribers to its streaming service? Just prior to that announcement, Netflix had been involved in a battle with ISPs including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon in which it was alleged that the ISPs were slowing down service when users (that’s you and me) were viewing content via their Netflix streaming video accounts. The ISPs felt Netflix should pay to deliver instant video content via the ISPs direct connection. Netflix felt this was the responsibility of the ISPs, but they agreed to a deal anyway and ponied up the money. Netflix then passed that cost along to their customers via higher prices for new subscribers. See how that works?
So what if Netflix paid. What does that mean to me?
Netflix is a big company. They turn a huge profit each year, and they have the funds and the resources to continue to throw money at these types of problems as they pop up, but what about your favorite Etsy seller? What about small nonprofits that offer social services to the needy? What about my friend Stephen and his family-run photography business? Smaller companies do not have the money and the resources to pay off communications giants in order to have their sites seen at the same speed as others, and if net neutrality ends, so could those sites. Think of it the way you think of Walmart building their huge mega-stores in your neighborhood and shutting down all the little mom and pop businesses. The end of net neutrality means that very same thing, except on the Internet. Instead of being able to read thejournalista.com, you will be forced to only get news and information from big sites that can afford to pay off Internet Service Providers for top speed access.
That isn’t fair to anyone.
How the other side feels
On the other side of the fence, there are those who make the argument that net neutrality is dumb. Gene Marks wrote this in a Forbes.com article recently:
Wouldn’t it be great if a two bedroom, 2,000 square foot apartment on Park Avenue cost the same as one in Queens? Or if a front row ticket to a Broadway show cost the same as one in the mezzanine? Wouldn’t it be great if you could buy a new BMW for the same amount as a new Hyundai? Or if the price of a Harvard education were equal to one from your local community college? These things are priced differently. They are not neutral. Nothing is neutral in a free market economy.
I take issue with Gene comparing net neutrality to the cost of housing in different areas or the cost of education at different educational institutions. That is oversimplifying the issue and comparing apples to oranges. As my friend Pete put it, a better analogy would have been to compare it to redlining. Essentially, if net neutrality dies, so does the free marketplace of ideas. It will instead be replaced by an Internet where big corporations get to control what you can and cannot see when you log on to the Internet whether it be on your mobile device or your computer.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the freedom of choice.
Do you want to be able to choose which websites you see when, or do you want your Internet Service Provider to be able to make that choice for you?