There is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding and, frankly, propaganda floating around regarding the issue of net neutrality. The FCC is expected to vote on a plan Tuesday (Dec. 21) to impose net neutrality rules. You can read about some of the common concerns here.
On one side of this debate, you hear from people concerned that big providers like Comcast will dominate the internet and prioritize and/or suppress certain traffic. On the other, you hear from people who point out, quite accurately in my opinion, who say that net neutrality simply involves government intervention where it is not necessary.
My argument is simple: the internet will change in the coming years, but because of all of the new technology that is coming out right now, the changes will make any additional regulation unnecessary.
If government regulation is necessary in a public utility, it should be in a utility where there is very little or no competition. For example, you can understand why the government regulated the telephone business prior to 1984, because there was only one telephone company, AT&T, which owned all the lines and even most of the phones in your home. Without regulation, AT&T could have charged anything it wanted.
But the telephone business became deregulated in 1984, and now there are literally hundreds of ways to make phone calls and hundreds of different companies offering service.
So, which is the internet, a controlled near-monopolistic service or one with robust competition?
I argue the latter. The traditional argument that you will hear to counter this is that many people live in areas where they only have one or maybe two ways of accessing the internet, via a cable modem or DSL. So, people are concerned about Comcast, for example, prioritizing traffic that favors its business model and suppressing traffic that helps its business.
But, here’s the rub: Comcast’s control of internet access is decreasing every day without regulation.
Don’t believe me? Go to this link:
Put in your zip code. I would guess that wherever you live there are several internet providers out there besides cable and the phone company.
I live in rural Colorado. I do not have cable access to my house. I have at least nine viable broadband providers. Yes, you read that right: nine. I can get 4G-like service from Verizon, Sprint, AT&T or T-Mobile. I can get Wimax from a company called Open Range. I have microwave access from a company called Skybeam. I can get DSL from Qwest. And I can get satellite from either Dish or DirectTV.
You may say: none of these options are as fast as a cable modem. And in some cases, you are correct. Certainly, the “4G options” some companies offer are very slow. But my microwave internet is 10 megs for download. I watch Netflix on it today and make phone calls from my IP phone. It is faster than DSL and cable in many markets.
So, let’s say you’re concerned about Comcast competing unfairly by restricting Netflix access at your house. What do you do? Well, you call Comcast and tell them that they change their rules or you’re dropping them and using DISH or 4G or wimax as your internet provider. Comcast will either change its rules or lose a lot of customers.
The 4G world is about to revolutionize internet access at home. You simply will not have any more reasons to be held captive by your DSL or cable provider. You can read more about it here. Bottom line: a Computerworld tester is getting download speeds of 4 megs consistently on Sprint’s 4G service. In the next year or so, 4G will be available in every major market from one company or another.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, that’s called competition, and it’s a wonderful thing.
Well, what’s to prevent your cell phone provider from tacking on extra fees for accessing youtube or Facebook of some other site? Folks, again, it’s competition. There are at least four major cell phone providers in every major market. Not all of them will charge the extra fees, and if they do, another company will come along offering a flat-rate plan without the extra fees.
I have yet to hear of a reason for the government to regulate anything related to the internet. I hear a lot about potential problems, but they are just that — potential. All of the potential problems will be resolved through competition.
Lay off regulating the internet — it simply isn’t necessary.