Opinion | What’s Really Going on With Net Neutrality?
A natural gas distribution network is considered a public utility. A gas utility has the exclusive authority to install distribution pipes in your street and run pipes to your home. Companies acquire these rights from the State or Federal government. To keep things fair for the gas consumer, the government regulates how much this monopoly can charge you for service.
Your beautiful home may have a natural gas fireplace, furnace, stove, pool heater, BBQ, clothes dryer and water heater. The gas utility does not dictate what you can buy or connect to the gas network.
The gas utility’s priority is to ensure enough safe and reliable supply of natural gas is in the pipeline system — enough to run as many of your appliances as you choose. In fact, when the gas meter outside your house spins wildly, the gas utility is quite happy. It is making money on that gas delivery. Spin, baby, spin.
Same goes for that cable that comes into your home installed by your community’s internet service provider (ISP). That wire connected to your router allows you to consume data for all your Netflix-ing, Hulu-ing, gaming, Facebook-ing, Instagram-ing, Skype-ing, Spotify-ing, Google-ing, Amazon-buying … ISPs make money on all that consumed data. Consume, baby, consume.
With web growth, comes consumer options. This is an exciting future. Internet highways are best if they accommodate all users, do not discriminate or deliberately slow traffic down.
In this light, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted “net neutrality” rules in 2015. These regulations ensure ISPs give you access to all web content and applications regardless of the source and prevents favoring or blocking products or websites.
But oddly just a mere two years later, the FCC repealed these net neutrality regulations claiming the rules discouraged ISPs from investing in additional capacity.
I am confused.
Like gas utilities, some ISPs have the cost burden of installing, expanding and upgrading infrastructure from which some competitors benefit. But these same telephone and cable companies made back their initial investment when they first entered the market as a monopoly.
To this day, these companies enjoy benefits from having been the first to deploy. Consider all the developments that prospectively wired buildings for future access to new customers.
Historically, ISPs have plowed their profits into expanding network capacity and offerings. It is understood that new networks involve high upfront costs but are comparatively low thereafter. So, every dollar made afterwards is effectively profit.
ISPs can then choose where to deploy profits. They can continue to invest in expanding their delivery capabilities. They can invest in TV stream subscription-based companies. They can invest in data collection systems enabling the sale of consumer internet usage data to the highest bidder. They can invest in lobbying for regulation that essentially allows an ISP to squeeze out any competitor that may want to use your network and force its own products onto captive customers.
As I see it, this latest rule repeal allows for all the above.
Some states have reinstated their own net neutrality rules and are now fighting the Federal government. But what will happen when John from Nebraska next logs into his Netflix account and gets an extra $30 access charge because his ISP is owned by the corporation that also owns Hulu, a Netflix competitor?
So what all is at risk here? How about further loss of privacy, loss of consumer choice, free speech restrictions and the overall impairment of an open society. &