You’ve shopped on Amazon before, right?
Isn’t it a pleasant experience?
Thousands of items to choose from. You can find almost anything. And, if you find what you need, you can sign up for Amazon Prime for two day shipping.
Isn’t that awesome? For only $99 a year you get free two day shipping, access to Amazon movies, music, book, and unlimited photo storage.
Amazon Prime is what’s called a Premium Service.
Using Amazon is free, but if you want more, you can upgrade.
Amazon Prime is the premium version.
A premium version that gives you added benefits and upgrades.
Now, what if I told you that Amazon Prime was unfair and dangerous?
What if I told you that Amazon Prime created an unfair environment where certain customers were treated better than others?
What if I told you that Amazon Prime threatened competition by squashing third-party sellers on Amazon?
What if I told you that Amazon Prime threatened competition as a whole?
You’d probably think I was being ridiculous.
“Amazon Prime isn’t a threat to competition,” you’d say, “It is competition.”
And you’d be right.
So if Amazon Prime is a legitimate service than why has Net Neutrality gained so much traction?
Why are Internet Service Providers getting so much crap for potentially offering “fast lanes?”
Charging internet companies for premium loading speeds might sound sketchy at first, but it’s no different than Amazon Prime.
One service is providing faster shipping.
The other is providing faster loading speeds.
So what’s the problem?
Why is Net Neutrality a thing?
Well, let’s let them explain why…
Here’s What They Say Net Neutrality is About
“The Internet is too important to leave to bureaucrats who seem more beholden to the ISPs than the public. We need to let the FCC know we will not tolerate rules that let ISPs pick and choose how well Internet users can connect to one another.”
– Corynne McSherry, CNN, on internet fast lanes
“We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. Companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business.”
– Barack Obama, to the FCC
“…Internet service providers should provide us with open networks — and should not block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks.”
– Save the Internet, on Net Neutrality
“Profits and corporate disfavor of controversial viewpoints or competing services could change both what you can see on the Internet and the quality of your connection.”
– ACLU, on Net Neutrality
“The real issue is that the Comcasts and Verizons are becoming too big and too powerful. Because every web company has no choice but to go through these ISPs, the Comcasts and the Verizons may eventually have too much freedom to decide how much companies must pay for fast speeds.”
– Robert McMillan, on Wired
Here’s What Net Neutrality is Really About
It’s about goods and services.
More specifically, it’s about allowing companies to sell upgraded versions of their services.
In Net Neutrality’s case, the service is internet connection. The upgraded version is “fast lanes.”
See, it’s not about the evil corporations who want to censor what you read, hear, and say. It’s not about freedom of speech, or about a free internet (spoiler, the internet is already free).
This is about business transactions in the Internet Service Provider industry.
Net Neutrality is not nearly as frightening as the media would have you believe.
Here’s why the fear mongers are misleading…
1. ISP’s are Companies that Provide a Service
Internet Service Providers (ISP), they’re companies. They provide a specific service to consumers. It’s hard to deny that.
First off, entering the ISP market is difficult in and of itself. High costs mixed with low profits until you hit that golden number of customers makes it a risky investment.
The amount of facilities and tech that’s required to run an ISP are numerous. It’s humorously outlined in this wikiHow page on how to become an ISP.
Once you make it through the barriers you have to compete like any other company. You need customers to stay afloat.
ISP’s aren’t charities, they work for profit.
If they can’t grab a significant facet of the consumer base than they die.
Competition is alive and well. It’s a market.
Services are being sold. It’s how the game goes.
2. It’s a Service, not a Public Good
Internet Service Providers are as much a public good as Amazon is.
Which is to say they’re not.
Amazon is a market place that connects you to hundreds of thousands of products. ISP’s connect you to billions of web pages and online content.
They both provide you with something. They’re both an avenue to something bigger (and better).
Yet, somehow Amazon is a private company, and ISP’s are a “public good?” How’s that work exactly?
Proponents like to utilize the “bandwagon” fallacy to make their point. The internet is so widely used that if taken away it would threaten the very foundation of society and our way of life. Therefore, to protect the public, it must be treated as a public good.
“…a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others… ‘The defining characteristic of a public good is that consumption of it by one individual does not actually or potentially reduce the amount available to be consumed by another individual’”
ISP’s are a service, which means they are finite in nature. The reason why you can sell internet connections is due to the cost of building and maintaining said connection.
Speed, space, and connection are limited and therefore available to consumers who need it the most (i.e. the ones who pay for it)
The finite nature of ISP’s restricts how many consumers can utilize it. It excludes people from using it.
It runs on the same basis of why you can afford Amazon Prime and I can’t. You want it more than me. You can afford it more than I can. I don’t need (or want) it as bad you do. I’m also a college student strapped for money…enough said.
3. You’ve Bought Premium Services, Right?
When did you last upgrade to a premium service?
Was it Amazon Prime? Maybe Spotify Premium? Or Hulu Plus?
So you know how premium services work?
You use the service, you test it out, you enjoy it.
Maybe you need more features. Oh look, there’s a paid version with the features you need.
That’s how it works with Net Neutrality.
Online companies will want an improved experience from their ISP. So, they upgrade.
They pay for an improved service. They want their content delivered faster. They want their customers to have the best online experience they can have.
Fast Lanes are the premium service that accomplishes that.
It’s no different from when you pay for expedited shipping.
No one gives UPS crap for offering expedited shipping.
4. ISP’s Provide Fast Lanes for Profit (Censorship isn’t an Option)
Remember, companies need to create a profit.
Profit is made if consumers are willing to pay for what you’ve created. If they don’t like your service, they won’t buy it.
This applies to Internet Service Providers too.
Supporters of Net Neutrality claim fast lanes will allow ISPs to censor competitors and ideological opponents by slowing their internet speeds.
Fortunately, these claims are misguided. They go against the incentives of the market and basic business tactics.
Here’s a few pointers on why fast lanes won’t be used to censor competitors or ideological opponents…
- The main internet companies calling for Net Neutrality (Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc) are untouchable by ISPs. No sane ISP would dare touch these companies for fear of being ripped apart by the public. Can you imagine what would happen to Comcast if they started blocking Google? WWIII…that’s what.
- Smaller start-up internet companies would have nothing to fear. They have no profits to share with ISPs. It’s like trying to fleece a poor person on the side of the street. At best you’re only going to get a few dollars. It’s not worth the effort.
- If an ISP did attempt to fleece a new start up it would be a PR dream for the new company. As Jim Harper pointed out on the Cato blog, “The anti-authoritarian culture of the Internet is the perfect place to play ‘beleaguered upstart’ against the giant, evil ISP.”
- Ownership of the connection to the internet doesn’t equate to control. Just because an ISP owns access to the internet doesn’t mean it has unobstructed control over it. If an ISP abuses their power (i.e. censoring websites) they’ll have to face the public’s wrath.
- Censoring ideologies is rarely condoned in this day and age. And in fact, it would have the same effect as attacking Google. Regardless of which side an ISP leans to politically, gagging the likes of Fox News or The Daily Kos would have catastrophic results. It would be a PR nightmare. It would spell the end of the ISP’s business.
- In case you’re wondering about the little guy with his semi-popular blog writing about politics, don’t worry. He’s in as much danger as the small start-up is. If you think your political blog is in danger of being “censored” than you might have a bad case of narcissism.
- One of the best ways to prevent censorship is through open competition. The more walled off and regulated an industry is, the less competition you’ll have. If you want to stop any possibility of ISP censorship happening you need to open up the industry. Too much regulations and start-ups get chocked out.
Conclusion: Correcting the Net Neutrality Myth
Is Net Neutrality about a free and open internet?
Yes, and no.
To the advocates, it’s certainly about a free and open internet.
They want the internet to be what it’s always been. A platform for innovation, creativity, and growth.
But, like most good-intentioned campaigns, they’re going at it the wrong way.
If you really want to preserve a free and open internet, you’ll need to get the government out. (Click to Tweet)
Not in, out.
It needs to get out.
There’s a reason why the FCC chairman is a former lobbyist for top cable and wireless companies…
Government regulations create perverse incentives.
And more regulations would bloat the already obese problem.
The best way to solve the Net Neutrality problem is to remove the bloated system. Give ISPs some room to breathe for crying out loud.
Loosen up the regulatory grasp on the internet. The less power the FCC has over the internet, the less power Comcast lobbyists have over it. (Click to Tweet)
A loosened regulatory system would allow competition among ISPs to grow. Competition is the way to prevent internet censorship. It’s how you avoid Comcast slowing down website speeds.
In the end, Net Neutrality isn’t about internet freedom, it’s about services. It’s about how businesses should sell their products.
And if you’re for a free and open internet, then loosening the regulatory system is your best option.