I preface this piece with the warning that my political rants are usually uninformed screeds of little value, but I hope that you at least find enough value in what I’ve written here to become interested enough to search out and find more information on your own.

What is Net Neutrality?

I use Vonage for phone service at home, even though Verizon provides my broadband internet connection.

Verizon obviously could provide my phone service, but I choose to use Vonage, which provides very good phone service using my existing internet connection at a cheaper rate than what Verizon would.

Network Neutrality is what prevents Verizon from restricting my access to Vonage’s service based on the kind of data that we exchange.

Without net neutrality, Verizon could dial back the amount of bandwidth that Vonage’s service usually uses to complete my calls, making my calls garbled and unintelligible. Technically, they wouldn’t place a restriction on my use of Vonage, they would simply reserve their best service for their own phone service, relegating services like Vonage to use what’s left over.

This is just the beginning of bad things that could happen as a result of letting service providers select who gets the best bandwidth. An example of a more globally-affecting change might be helpful…

If anyone could pay an ISP to provide better access to their content, then a news company like CNN could pay an ISP to make the broadband content of other news networks undesireable.

This would be like making all channels on TV fuzzy except for CNN. Sure, you could still see the other channels, but if you wanted the best quality (of picture, not necessarily of content) you would tune to CNN.

Imagine if some news agency slanted toward promotion of certain propaganda took over broadcasting. We already have a significant problem in this country regarding the reliability of news sources and the bias they provide. The internet is often talked about as our last bastion of potential truth in news - where enough people can write the news that you can filter for the truth and belief from the sum of what’s available online.

Internet news is not perfect my any means, but at least you get access to the whole view. Ending network neutrality will allow censorship on the internet to be dictated by whoever spends the most money. It allows ISPs to hold ransom the segments of the internet that people want most until someone with content to offer pays their extortion fees.

The opponents of network neutrality are the people who stand to benefit most from its disintegration. They are the companies that provide your network, the ISPs and the equipment manufacturers. They cry a sob story of how innovation on the internet will be lost unless they can charge more of the providers that use more of the network. This is bogus, an I can explain why.

All of these companies already pay for the access that they have. If the telecoms wanted more money for infrastructure, they could increase their prices for general access to the internet. And they do: Just like we would pay more for DSL than dialup, the major content providers already pay more for their OC3s (really big pipes) than their T1s (smaller big pipes).

Instead of considering the overall bandwidth that these content providers pay for and consume, the ISPs want to charge more for premium bandwidth for the services provided by those companies. They want to be able to charge Google more for video content because it’s video content. Nevermind that they’re already paying for the bandwidth that would transfer it to you.

I’ve heard the analogy that paying extra for that premium bandwidth is like how trucks pay extra taxes for use of highways. That’s nonesense. The internet is not a physical structure, and the parts of the internet that are physical require no additional money to maintain if all content producers are provided equal access.

I’ve heard the first-to-fire idea, where the ISPs remain in a stand-off waiting for the first of them to throttle bandwidth and bear the ill-will of the people. There are flaws in this argument. First, many people only have access to one or two ISPs, so the choice between a network neutral ISP and a non-neutral ISP could mean a significant change in infrastructure and behavior for the consumer. Second, most people wouldn’t even know that sites were being throttled, they’d just switch to the ones that weren’t (which is the real evil hidden in this policy change). Third, Assuming one ISP does do the stupid thing, that breaks the “cold war” and suddenly everyone’s doing it!

I’ve heard this FedEx analogy, which is also bogus. Yes, you should be able to pay more for a package to be delivered overnight than with the delay of standard ground shipping. But your non-neutral internet isn’t paid for by you. That is, the consumers don’t tell their ISPs, “I want to pay for improved perfromance of Site X.” Site X pays for that performance. So this creates two problems: If you really wanted Site Y instead, but they don’t pay, you’re hosed. When you finally get tired of the lag of Site Y, Site X charges you for access to compensate for their upgrade.

I’ve heard folks argue that telecoms would not do such a thing because it’s bad for business. But they already are! You’ve heard of Craigslist, right? Blocked by Cox. Craigslist is not some small site, either. This is an instance of an ISP blocking other content for its own self-interest.

To say that telecoms will sit idly by not making more money from something over which the restrictions have been lifted is to assume that all of those companies are incredible consumer advocates, which if you read the same proposed legislation, obviously is untrue. Other parts of the proposed legislation could lower consumer bandwidth fees by $30 - $40. If that weren’t true, I would tend more toward belief that I wasn’t already being fleeced.

Some folks don’t want the government to regulate the internet. I’m not suggesting that the government regulate content. I’m suggesting that the government specifically disallow the regulation of content. How is ensuring that the price is fair among consumers and publishers of internet content much different from the regulation the government already imposes on telephone service?

To bloggers, network neutrality is the idea that makes your opinion on any topic just as easy to obtain as the paid authors from the media and industry.

Imagine if access to your blog was throttled back in favor of some other person who had “paid” for better distribution of their higher opinions of the policies or opinions of an ISP. That’s just part of what we’re talking about.

Obviously, there are opinions contrary to mine. I enourage you to read them and try to discover their flaws, if they exist. In fact, ZDNet has some info on why you should oppose net neutrality. Truth in Tech makes some very interesting arguments against net neutrality. Many on which I would disagree.

Of course, we’re already too late to do anything in the house. Read more about what Google thinks about net neutrality and how to make your opinions heard. Read more about net neutrality on the net, while you can still hear both sides.