End of ‘net neu­tral­ity’ no rea­son to worry

The Columbus Dispatch - - Opinion/forum - TOM KNAPP Tom Knapp is di­rec­tor of the Wil­liam Lloyd Gar­ri­son Cen­ter for Lib­er­tar­ian Ad­vo­cacy Jour­nal­ism in Gainesville, Florida.

Iget lots of email, in­clud­ing email from po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cacy groups trum­pet­ing the Im­pend­ing Doom of the Month. This month, that doom is the com­ing end of “net neu­tral­ity” at the hands of the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion.

“Don­ald Trump and his cor­po­rate cronies are about to de­stroy the in­ter­net,” writes Eden James of Democ­racy for Amer­ica.

“[FCC chair­man Ajit] Pai is paving the way for mo­nop­o­lis­tic ISPs to block and cen­sor what we see on­line, and push any­one who can’t pay ex­tra fees into ‘in­ter­net slow lanes,’” warns Carli Steven­son of De­mand Progress.

Kurt Wal­ters of Fight For The Fu­ture says that the im­pend­ing end of the FCC’s net neu­tral­ity rules is a “plan to end the in­ter­net as we know it ...”

For some rea­son, those alarmist emails leave out the fact that “the in­ter­net as we know it” — the World Wide Web — sur­vived and thrived for nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury with­out net neu­tral­ity, which was im­posed by a pre­vi­ous FCC only a lit­tle more than two years ago.

But now the alarmists in­sist that ax­ing the 2-year-old rule will sud­denly, for un­spec­i­fied rea­sons, cause in­ter­net ser­vice providers to di­vide the in­ter­net into “fast” and “slow” lanes at the ex­pense of their own cus­tomers and of small web­site own­ers. Why ISPs would cut off their noses to spite their own faces in this way isn’t ex­plained, prob­a­bly be­cause the pre­dic­tion makes no sense at all and sim­ply isn’t based in re­al­ity.

The fight over net neu­tral­ity is best un­der­stood as a duel be­tween cor­po­rate in­ter­ests — Big Tele­com on one hand, Big Data on the other, with Big Data do­ing a bet­ter job of fool­ing ac­tivists into mak­ing a moral cru­sade out of the mat­ter.

Big Data — specif­i­cally com­pa­nies that de­liver high-band­width ser­vices like stream­ing video (Net­flix, Google’s YouTube ser­vice, et al.), or that con­sume lots of band­width sim­ply by virtue of be­ing very pop­u­lar (Face­book and so forth) need ever-larger pipes to shove that data at you. They want ISPs to shoul­der the costs of build­ing and fat­ten­ing those pipes.

Big Tele­com — the ISPs — want to charge the band­width hogs ex­tra for get­ting such large amounts of data to your screen in a timely man­ner, so that Big Data bears the costs of build­ing those pipes and keep­ing them un­con­gested.

If Big Data wins (net neu­tral­ity), ISP cus­tomers will end up pay­ing more for in­ter­net ac­cess. Ev­ery­one’s in­ter­net ac­cess fees will go up (or at least re­main higher than they oth­er­wise would) and broad­band in­ter­net’s ex­pan­sion into ru­ral ar­eas will slow down.

If Big Tele­com wins, dif­fer­ent cus­tomers (stream­ing video sub­scribers, web host­ing users) will see our fees rise.

There’s no such thing as a free in­ter­net. Some­one’s go­ing to pay to make it keep work­ing. The only ques­tion is who. I’d rather pay an ex­tra $5 a month for my web host­ing and Net­flix binges than shift that cost to my neigh­bor next door who checks her email once a day. Good rid­dance to net neu­tral­ity.

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