One of the cornerstones of a free and open Internet is the inability of Internet service providers (such as Comcast in the US and Rogers in Canada) to discriminate amongst the data that passes through its pipes.
That fundamental, defining principle of the Internet is under attack in the United States, as the Federal Communications Commission, an agency intended to regulate communications such as radio, television, and satellite, voted to approve a plan to create a ‘fast-lane’ on the Internet.
At first, such a proposal sounds good, but two very important factors are overlooked. Firstly, the creation of a fast-lane thus means that all other traffic is on the slow-lane. Although this has been argued semantically, it is common sense — firms or individuals who do not pay for traffic prioritization will have its traffic routed through the lower echelons of the global Internet infrastructure. Secondly, the Internet providers aren’t doing this to improve your Internet browsing experience. If they truly cared about you, arbitrary limits such as bandwidth caps would cease to exist. Likewise, the most likely outcome of the arbitrary creation of two classes of traffic does not equal faster traffic — it just means that all the neutral traffic we currently peruse will be extorted out of their vital bandwidth unless they pay the ISP cartels.
Calling this extortion is by no means a far stretch. Even in North America, thought to be some of the most developed parts of the world, many areas are only served by a handful of Internet service providers. This problem is exacerbated in rural parts of Canada and the United States, where people have no choice but to go with Comcast or Time Warner Cable. With the huge market share that these two (soon to be one) firms have, corporations such as Netflix have no option but to pay extra fees to connect to their users. These costs will not be absorbed by shareholder-driven capitalistic firms like Netflix, but instead, will be passed on to users.
There is no hyperbole here — Comcast users in America experienced extremely slow speeds when using Netflix, after it was discovered that Comcast was essentially holding the media-streaming service hostage for what it called “unfair.”
It is true, that during peak hours when Netflix accounts for approximately 30% of Internet traffic in the states, that they account for a lot of bandwidth. But who cares? The role of Comcast or TWC or Rogers or Bell is not to regulate what we watch or share on the Internet. It’s to provide us access to the Internet. And when they overstep their bounds, and try to police the internet in an attempt to pad their pockets through threatening the open exchange of information on the Internet, the evident failure of democracy and due process is highlighted.
Despite the difference between Canadians and Americans, one thing that will always unite the two nations is the hostility held towards cable companies. When they gouge us for every last penny and post enormous pockets, we can’t help but feel like we’ve been personally spit on by the telecom executives. In Canada, our net neutrality isn’t at stake — yet — but the FCC ruling effectively killing net neutrality in the States has massive consequences for Canadians and Americans alike.
In the case of Neuron Magic and Nerve Spark, our servers are located in the United States. In the likely case scenario, our bandwidth would ‘be unaffected’ (see: slow-laned) with the ability to upgrade our traffic capabilities for a less than measly figure. And that is one of the fundamental problems of killing net neutrality: you kill competition and innovation along with it.
When entrepreneurs, innovators, and driven individuals must face greater barriers to make themselves heard and to promote their activities and causes, they’re effectively silenced out by firms and individuals with nearly endless amounts of cash with endless access to the Internet fast-lane. The Neuron Magics and the Pledges for Changes of the world will be burdened by the cost of data-prioritization.
The sad part is, the Internet is all about speed. Every fraction of a second that a website takes to load leads to lost profits. Every second that a website is inaccessible leads to disaster. This is not an Internet geek-dystopian future. This is the reality should net neutrality be killed off.
The power to regulate the Internet, and to control who can access what content at what speed, should not be placed at the hands of any private corporation, much less the last-mile providers that send you bills every month. If the supposed unfairness of firms like Netflix using a significant amount of bandwidth was real, the real complainants should be companies like Level 3, which provide much of the Internet backbone in the United States. (For the record, Level 3 has publicly denounced efforts by Comcast to end net neutrality.)
The real unfairness is in the anti-competitive values these firms espouse. For example, although Netflix is ‘evil’ in the eyes of Comcast, they operate their own competitor: Xfinity Streampix. And you can bet they don’t have to pay for fast-lane access. The real unfairness is in the perversion of democratic values. The chairman of the FCC is a former lobbyist for the National Cable Television Association. The real unfairness is in the fact that not only are consumers getting screwed on a monthly basis, but now people who are trying to utilize the Internet as a catalyst for free speech are getting screwed too.
We here at Neuron Magic and Nerve Spark believe in the power of the open Internet. We believe in fairness and in free speech. We believe in engaging in political discourse to keep the Internet in the hands of the people. It is, for all of these reasons, that we are proud to stand in support of net neutrality.