This Is (One of Many Reasons) Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
You may have heard: today, the Federal Communications Commission SAVED TEH INTERWEBZ!
The open internet finally got the protection it deserves from profit-hungry cable companies. The FCC just approved the strongest set of net neutrality rules in this country’s history, punctuating a years-long battle for this future of the internet. However, the war’s not yet over.
The new rules largely resemble the open internet rules that Obama laid out three months ago. They forbid paid prioritization—the practice that enables cable companies to create internet “fast lanes”—as well as throttling. The new rules do not allow internet service providers to block websites and give the FCC authority to intervene when big cable companies don’t act in the public interest.
Throttling is generally bad…unless some dude is dragging the whole building down while he tries to download the entirety of Universal Pictures movie library while streaming Netflix and mining Bitcoin. Throttle the hell outta that guy (the bandwidth variety, and the hands-on-neck variety). But other than that, what was so bad about the coming new internet that needed a law passed to stop it?
What, exactly, is wrong with this idea?
If you ask opponents – the supporters of Net Neutrality – it would mean a future where if you don’t pay, the ISPs will slow your site down so much that it can’t be accessed. They’ll hold you for ransom, so that unless you put up the cash, you are denied traffic, and your potential users are denied access. I get it. I don’t think it’s evil, but I get it…if it were realistic. But it’s not. What would really happen is quite different.
You’re now zipping along a network that you’re probably satisfied with, for the cost. I’m decently happy with my 20Mbps. But now, TWC has decided that their going to boost the bandwidth (by say, 50% over whatever the user’s current bandwidth is) for sites that pay a premium. So, when Facebook and Google and Walmart pay them a few bucks, they get more speed. You, the user, get those sites that you want even faster, and at no extra cost! This is winning.
Eventually, those big comapanies are going to start paying more for more speed (+75%) making the first premium tier cheaper (because economics). Now smaller companies are doing it. Then, as those big brands move to tier 3 (2x), and the middle-sized ones go to tier 2, GoDaddy and HostGator get an idea – they’ll pay one fee, and it will cover all shared and virtual private hosting!
Well, now TWC has to upgrade its infrastructure to handle the increased bandwidth. Now it costs them the same to serve the consumer 50Mbps as it did to serve 20Mbps when this all started. So they start giving more bandwidth without a price increase, maintaining their margin and adding customers. This would continue until a peak is hit…somewhere.
How do I know? Text messaging.
Do you remember when every text cost $.20? How about when you got 200/month for $20, and it was $.25 each after that? And now it’s unlimited, for everyone. How about computers? Every computer advance was completely subsidized by manufacturers who gave discounts and advantages to companies that paid. Because innovation isn’t free.
All that was really necessary here was a) the new definition of broadband, and b) a law against “throttling” certain kinds of web traffic (but allowing throttling of certain bandwidth-hogging users). That would be it. But this is just going to slow the innovation and infrastructure growth that was guaranteed to come from those corporate subsidies. Well done FCC. Well done.