Net Neutrality: a primer.

by 1:10 AM 0 comments
I really hoped that this post wouldn't be necessary. Something that is so clear to me, so obvious, seems to be so hard to comprehend by a large enough portion of the population that I feel compelled to do my part to share what I understand with those that lack the knowledge or motivation to see.

Net Neutrality. If you haven't heard those words over the past year or so, you've been living under a rock. Or, you're Amish. There's been so much said about it, yet so much of what has been said is not motivated by the pursuit of truth, or the upholding of our laws or Constitution.

I consider myself a Libertarian. I am also a pragmatist. So perhaps I'm not the sort of Libertarian people can point a finger to and use as part of the definition of Libertarianism, but I can sleep at night secure in the belief that where I err as a Libertarian, I do so with the understanding that the current system favors the rich and powerful, and if I have to choose a side for which to defend personal liberty, I choose the people. The world I wish we lived in is not yet a reality, and that means that the waters can still be muddied by compromise driven by corruption and ignorance. If everyone had the resources to have their voice heard, the opportunity to play by the same rules, then success would be determined by hard work and character, the way our founding fathers envisioned. I wish for a level playing field, where if a tax and oppression free society is yet beyond us, perhaps a flat tax might not be. I want fairness, if I can never see utopia.

I'm not going to give a lecture here on liberty. Suffice it to say that there are those that defend liberty, the ability for each person to chart their own course and live by whatever consequences arise from that path, but even some of those people have become confused on this individual subject. They defend the rights of corporations, yet don't understand how doing so in this regard is infringing upon the personal liberty of everyone else. Some of them have made allies that are lying to them, and some of them have made allies that have motivations that run counter to libertarianism. They have enjoyed being part of a club, rubbing elbows with movers and shakers too much. In short, they have ventured off the path.

They made a choice. Where they see Net Neutrality as an infringement on the rights of Internet Service Providers, or ISP's, a means to force their hands via government control over their companies. While I understand the mechanics of a free market ecosystem, trying to apply them to the ISP industry is to overlook the obvious-ISP's, at least in this country, are monopolies. Monopolies do not have to fight it out in a free market, by nature of colluding with each other to make sure that they do not have to compete.

Many of my readers are fellow authors, and the memory of the Apple/Big 5 vs. Amazon antitrust trials still fresh in their minds. In this, for those not privy to the events, Apple and the big five publishers were found guilty of agreeing in secret to force Amazon to charge more for their books than they wanted to. Amazon wanted to price books lower, and was willing to accept lower margins in order to sell more books. The Big 5 publishers didn't want Amazon to become a monopoly, and the way they sought to fight this was to work together, in effect to become one themselves.

Amazon is not a monopoly, but they are fast becoming one, something that needs to be addressed in publishing circles by someone doing a better job of competing with them. There is no artificial limits being placed on Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, iBooks (Apple), or any other bookseller at the moment. Amazon has earned their standing in the market by out-competing these sellers, by providing a better buying experience. They do not have exclusive agreements with publishers or authors, content creators have every right to sell their works wherever else they feel they can sell them. This is the way competition is supposed to work, and Amazon's lead in the market will continue until someone better comes along to dethrone them.

This is entirely different than what is going on with Net Neutrality.

Senator Ted Cruz, a man who has pocketed more than most from Comcast and other ISP's, recently posted on twitter and facebook that Net Neutrality is like Obamacare for the internet. He knew what he was doing when he posted this. It was a well designed lie.

Obamacare required people to buy health insurance, a product sold by private corporations in order to protect the bottom line of other corporations. I did not agree with Obamacare when it was being drafted, and I do not agree with it today. Members of my family have been hurt by it, seen their insurance premiums skyrocket. I did not agree with it, but once it became an inevitability I consoled myself in hoping that some of it's provisions might lessen the blow of the requirement to buy insurance. I'm referring to the portions of the bill that require insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, or at least to remove their ability to use that as an excuse to deny coverage. My science fiction novel, pre://d.o.mai.n, was centered around a family whose coverage of a life saving cancer cure was denied by such a loophole. I also hoped that the portions of the bill would remove the shroud of secrecy around hospital chargemasters, the computer programs used to determine billing, seemingly in an arbitrary manner.

Patient bills are determined after the treatment has already been provided, in most cases, and the patient has no choice but to pay the bill, even if they have insurance. In a lot of ways, it's like eating at a fancy restaurant with no prices on the menu, and when you think you might want to go somewhere else you realize every other restaurant has the same menus.

I've drifted pretty far off track here, but I wanted to refresh everyone's memory on how unpopular Obamacare is, and how even the people that initially were hopeful that it might do some good were disappointed in it's half-ass execution, where the benefits of increased hospital billing transparency still haven't been put into practice yet.

So when Ted Cruz tied Net Neutrality to Obamacare, he did so not because the comparison is accurate, he did it to tap into the hatred of a populace too busy to bother looking too close. People don't see how Net Neutrality benefits them, and they're often too busy or disinterested to bother looking into it, to educate themselves and to draw their own conclusions.

So let me break it down for you. A brief history lesson on Net Neutrality.

First, a definition of just what Net Neutrality is.

Net Neutrality is the policy that all internet traffic, be it porn videos, cat videos, facebook posts, this blog post, Netflix videos, emails, tweets, WHATEVER, is all treated the same, or, to make it clearer-Neutrally. Oh, Netflix has to pay more, because they use more bandwidth, but the amount they pay is directly proportional to the amount of bandwidth they use, and the speed, just like everyone else.

If you want a faster internet connection, you can pay for it. If you have a cell phone, and you want to be able to use the internet more on it than your 2 Gb plan will allow, you can buy a bigger package. If you want it to be faster at home, you can buy a faster package. If you want your cell phones internet to be faster, you can buy one that has 4G capability. The point is-you pay for your service already. You don't pay more or less based on where you go on the internet, you pay for how far and how fast you can get there. So does Netflix. They pay for their connection just like you do. Net Neutrality critics behave like Netflix has free access to the internet, or that they somehow are using more bandwidth than they pay for. This is not the case.

Up until 2011, the internet was largely unregulated in terms of Net Neutrality. All content was treated equally, just like if you pay for gas in your car, the gas station can't tell you where you can or can't go with that gas, or if you can get on the highway with it or if you have to stick to back roads. It was great, and the only reason you don't notice that anything has changed is that ISP's are waiting for the other shoe to drop before enacting changes. If they make their changes now, when the subject is still up for debate, they will lose the support of whoever they've bought off because the changes will be less popular than Obamacare. No, they're biding their time, not wanting to shoot their load (muzzle loader gun reference, get out of the gutter) before the contracts have been signed, so to speak.

Net Neutrality has been currently overturned, since 2011 when Verizon sued the FCC], stating that the Net Neutrality rules the FCC had put in place were unconstitutional. The FCC had decided that internet service was a basic utility, like the electricity provided by your electric company or the water provided to your local water utility. It very much is like that. It always has been, since the very birth of the nationwide internet. You pay for electricity, and the electric company doesn't dictate what you do with it. They don't tell you how many TV's you can use, if you have to use an over or a rangetop to cook your food, or how long you are allowed to leave your lights on. Same with water. Your water company doesn't tell you how long your baths are allowed to be, how many glasses you are allowed to drink, etc. You simply pay for what you use, and enjoy the freedom to do with it what you please, so long as it isn't breaking any other laws.

Do you think that the internet, as it currently exists, sounds a lot like that? Yes. So long as you aren't Netflix. As consumers, we pay for our internet, we use it how we see fit, so long as it doesn't break any laws. Netflix, since the Appellate court overturned the Net Neutrality laws in 2011, has been fighting a losing battle against Comcast and other ISP's. Netflix still pays it's internet service fees, same as it always has, but recently it has been forced to pay additional fees in order to maintain the same level of service it was enjoying prior to the changes. Let me reiterate that-Netflix was paying it's bills to the ISP's, but the ISP's decided that they needed more money because Netflix was....well......Netflix. Netflix was already paying for their electricity, their water, but Comcast didn't like what they were using it for, so they started turning down the water pressure, and causing brownouts, until Netflix agreed to pay more money than everyone else for the same internet access.

Since I know some of you are visual learners, let me show you a graph. Netflix is the black line on Comcast. I'll let you guess when Comcast started shaking Netflix down, and at what point Netflix's first check cleared for the new billing cycle.



The graph shows that other ISP's had the same problem, but remember, Comcast is the largest infrastructure provider in the US. Meaning they own most of the interconnecting roads, so their speeds will drop as well because part of their networks run through Comcast's.

This would be like Comcast deciding that it disagrees with your political or religious beliefs, and decides to slow your connection when you visit sites that support those beliefs because it doesn't agree with them. It's an gross infraction of personal liberty, of free speech, and it is also an antitrust violation as well as a discriminatory practice. The only reason the people in charge of this are not in jail is because:

A: our government is largely bought and paid for. The only corporation that donated more money than Comcast in the last election cycle is Northrop Grumman, a military contractor, who has no customers other than the government.

B: It is currently LEGAL, under the ruling by the appellate court. Even the potential human rights violations have little in the way of legal precedent, which means that it's a veritable playground for the ISP's until the FCC finalizes it's new rules. They can point fingers all over the place, and nothing will change until the FCC dictates what the legal ramifications for this practice will be, if any.

The fact that Senator Cruz was even allowed to post something in direct contrast to facebook's stated opposition to overruling of Net Neutrality is only because they choose to not engage in the very behavior that Comcast, Time Warner, and the rest of the ISP's out there are trying to get signed into law. As the law stands, again, only since the appellate court ruling changed the landscape in 2011, they could block Ted Cruz's account, or slow down his posts so much that he would be commenting on Net Neutrality after the decision had already been made. There is no law against it now, because the appellate court has decided that corporations are people, and not only are they people, their rights are more valid than yours and mine. The Republican party has been a supporter of the new changes, of which Ted Cruz is a member. This is also the same Republican party that won landslide elections a few weeks ago, meaning that if Congress has their way, you will be paying a great deal more if you want to participate in parts of the internet that they and the ISP's of the world find wrong, or at least there will be nothing stopping them from doing so, legally speaking.

But we trust the government to dictate morality well enough, right? Oh...well how about large corporations, ones like Hobby Lobby that have decided that they can make changes to their employees health coverage at will based on religious beliefs? You know, separation of church and state, right?

If you want the government out of your browser history, you don't need to be against Net Neutrality, no matter how much Ted Cruz wants to confuse you. You need to be for it, because Net Neutrality is about personal freedom to do what you want on the internet, and to be able to pay the same prices to do it as someone that enjoys a different political, personal, or service preference than you do.

And if you're just supporting the ISP's because you think that they will cut your bill because you don't watch Netflix online, or tweet 100 times a day, then you are the worst sort of lemming. When was the last time your internet bill went DOWN? It doesn't. Just like there isn't some untapped potential in the network for a "Fast Lane." According to their own information, the information that they are supplying to twist the debate around Net Neutrality, there isn't enough network capacity to continue without future expansion, or at least for much longer. If they don't have enough capacity to provide the promised "Fast Lane", then the only thing they can do is make the current internet the "Fast Lane", and reduce the speeds of those that don't pay.

Or even worse, they're lying about not having more network headroom, and they're just holding out on everyone in order to extort more money. Whichever way, they're being dishonest.

The internet needs to go back to the way it was, or to stay the way everyone seems to think it is right now. People need to get what they've been paying for, and Comcast and the other ISP's need to stop being greedy, manipulative monopolies.

I vote FOR Net Neutrality, and I hope you do too. Or, I would vote for it, if they were allowing us to. At any rate, call your senator, and explain it to them now. Clearly there are quite a few of them that don't understand it either.


Chris Godsoe

Developer

Christopher Godsoe is a science fiction author in Central Maine. A single father, he spends his time enjoying video games with his son, cooking, and is an unrepentant film buff.