Much has been made about net neutrality recently. But what does “net neutrality” really mean? In a nutshell, it’s the idea that Internet Service Providers should not be allowed to discriminate against any type of traffic on their networks, for any reason. While it has many more implications, it has become a hot topic of discussion with the rise of streaming video over the internet, which Netflix and Comcast currently find themselves in the center of the fight.
On the surface, net neutrality seems like a no-brainer, but is it really? The fact of the matter is that net neutrality is a very complex issue, and no matter the outcome, we, as consumers, will be the losers.
I feel there are two distinct sides to the issue, and many people may not be aware of the legitimacy of both arguments. This is America, and information is supposed to flow freely, much like the Freedom of Speech, provided by the Bill of Rights. However, bandwidth is not free, and companies like Netflix essentially make a profit using the property of companies like Comcast. Our great country is also based on Capitalism, and both sides understandably want their share.
A Lose-Lose Situation
Suppose the government steps in and enforces net neutrality upon all ISPs nationwide. That sounds like a dream come true to most people in our 21st Century society. Who wouldn’t want to be able to stream any video over the internet on demand, in the comfort of his or her own home, or even on the road? In many cases, this is the extent of the argument, case closed.
Unfortunately, providing network bandwidth is not free. When it comes to millions of consumers streaming terabytes of video simultaneously, it becomes quite expensive. ISPs have to maintain their networks and buttress their infrastructure in order to support the dramatic load increase brought on by the advances of technology. This increase in cost reduces their profits, while Netflix’s profits soar to unimaginable heights. This is a capitalist society, and the ISPs, unsurprisingly, are not happy when their profits fall. If the ISPs are forced to allow all types of traffic, monthly fees from your friendly neighborhood cable company will go up, in order to cover their losses.
Now suppose the government steps in and says ISPs can discriminate against streaming video services like Netflix. Netflix will have to pay ISPs like Comcast a hefty sum in order to provide their services to us, the consumers. Again, this is a capitalist society we live in, and Netflix would pass the cost on to the consumer. Netflix recently increased the price of their streaming subscription, so I have no reason to believe that they would not do it again.
The Bottom Line
If freedom of information wins, we lose. If ISPs win the fight, we lose as well. I hope I’m missing the third scenario where we win. Maybe I’d settle for a tie, because I’m having a hard time seeing the consumer benefit either way.
Nobody likes higher prices, but the bottom line is that bandwidth is not free, and economics dictates that the cost will be passed on to the consumer. As streaming video technology continues to evolve, with more and more HD video becoming available as we speak, I’d like to hear what you, our readers, think about the issue.Image provided by Discovery Education