There’s something missing from the arguments saying that the government must regulate how Internet providers run their networks — under so-called “net neutrality” principles — and that ISPs shouldn’t be allowed to sell the equivalent of Internet express lanes to whoever wants to pay for them.
What’s missing is that no one has convincingly and realistically explained what would happen that’s so bad if ISPs were NOT forced to observe net neutrality, and if they were allowed to sell faster access to the highest bidders.
The reality is that nothing really bad would happen, and that things would mostly stay the same — especially from the perspective of Internet users, the people the FCC is here to protect.
That’s because everyone involved — Internet providers, giant Internet companies, the FCC — has an interest in making sure things don’t go to hell. And they will all continue to work to make things better than they are today, for users and for their bottom lines. Without the nuisance and potential profit-blockade of government regulation. Because this is a capitalist country, after all, and Internet should be a free and open market just like any other.
Weak argument #1: But if my ISP can suddenly do whatever it wants, and sell big companies like Google priority access to its pipes, my Internet connection at home is going to suck!
No, that’s not going to happen. ISPs like Comcast and Verizon are in business to sell Internet access to as many people as possible. They would not do anything that would jeopardize their subscriber retention. If even the slightest disruption occurred, the companies would retreat. They are not in business to lose customers.
As much as it pains people to believe, ISPs actually want to provide you with the best Internet access that they can, so you remain a subscriber and keep paying them money. They don’t want to screw you over, or scare you away to their competitors.
If anything, things could get even more expensive for consumers if net neutrality is enforced. If ISPs don’t get alternative revenue opportunities, they will have even more incentive to force subscribers over to metered Internet plans, capping monthly bandwidth allotments and charging for overages, like AT&T recently did for its new wireless data subscribers.
Weak argument #2: If priority bandwidth becomes a cost for Internet companies, because rich companies like Google or Apple are happy to pay for it, it’ll totally disrupt innovation. Startups won’t be able to compete with incumbents anymore because they won’t be able to pay for bandwidth.
Sure, bandwidth may cost more money than it did before, for some companies (most won’t ever need priority bandwidth). But it’s not like bandwidth is free today. And it’s not like it’s the only cost to running an Internet company. In fact, bandwidth and infrastructure costs for startups have been getting cheaper. It’s staff and rent that still cost the most for many companies. And those costs have nothing to do with net neutrality.
The vast majority of Internet businesses won’t pay for priority bandwidth, if it’s ever available. And the ones who do will figure it into their costs of doing business, the same way they do with rent, staff, health insurance, etc. If startups need to raise more money from venture capitalists, then they need to raise more money from venture capitalists. Or they can be creative, and evolve, and figure out other advantages.
Plus, it’s not like the costs will escalate to the point that they really cause any serious problems. Google and Microsoft aren’t going to let Comcast extort them any more than a startup would.
So, before we rush into getting the government to regulate our Internet access, can we all at least admit that there really isn’t anything to actually worry about if net neutrality goes away?
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