I am pleased to see that the FCC has finally seen sense on the “net neutrality” issue, defined as whether or not internet service providers can offer—and charge for—a “fast lane” for those that want it, usually assumed to be high-volume, high-bandwidth users. To me, this has always seemed a sensible idea. There’s a demand for higher bandwidth speeds, but not everyone will need it. Upgrading internet backbone will require significant investment, and it’s appropriate that the companies that lay out for those upgrades should be able to recoup those investments from user fees. On the other hand, there’s no reason to pass on those costs to those who won’t use it—unless forced to.
The arguments against this have always struck me as hogwash, in particular, the one that maintains that internet providers would slow down or bottleneck traffic for non-fast lane users, presumably in order to coerce them into paying for faster service.
Seriously, that’s just stupid. Why would anyone do that? If you are in a business where the competitive edge depends on delivering content more rapidly—streaming video, etc.—you are going to be looking at fast lane regardless. If you’ve got a little arts and crafts web store, there’s probably no benefit in going that way. Consumers and small users are a valuable part of the market. Why would carriers intentionally want to piss them off? (Note: I’m very aware of the hoo-haa between Comcast and Netflix: all I care to say on that one is that nothing has been proven either way.)
Look at how things work right now. Communications companies certainly want to up-sell services, but they don’t engage in coercive practices to make it happen. Small-business land-line users aren’t having their service degraded in order to push them into ordering large-business services. T-1 type services aren’t being slowed down in an effort to push users into getting Ethernet service. Of course, technological migrations happen, the shift from analog to digital broadcast television being a case in point. But, while that was in progress, no one was intentionally degrading analog signals in order to push people to switch to digital more rapidly.
Right now, every aspect of the internet experience is customizable, depending on your needs and your pocketbook, except long distance transport. As a content consumer, you can have as fast a computer as you can afford, and usually a number of speed/bandwidth options from your internet provider. As a content provider, you can connect to the backbone over anything from a DSL line, to a 1.5 megabyte T-1, to a 10 Gigabyte Ethernet connection (depending on where you are), and can hook up as big and fast servers as your needs justify. So, why shouldn’t you have the option to purchase a higher transport speed also, if it is worth it to you?
My rather jaundiced belief is that a lot of the “net neutrality” proponents are essentially hoping that demand will force a general upgrade to internet backbone, and that they’ll then be able to reap the benefits of higher transport speed without having to invest in it. This is both unfair and foolish. A general infrastructure upgrade would require even more investment than the “fast lane,” and those costs have got to be recouped somehow, which, under the “net neutrality” protocol, would probably mean price increases for ALL internet users. Doesn’t it makes sense to assign the costs only to those who want the extra speed and are willing to pay for it, instead of passing it along to those who don’t directly benefit?
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