Before we begin, please bear with me, this blog contains some reasonably complex ideas and social issues that I will try and distill down into an easy to read format but despite my best attempts I can already tell with all the news and hype surrounding this issue I may be forced to use some reasonably large words, be warned. Though Net Neutrality in New Zealand isn’t currently a concern it’s not something we can just ignore.
Imagine for me, if you will, you are looking to buy headphones. You shop around and pick a pair that not only look great but fit amazingly. You take them up to the checkout and the shop assistant asks you “what do you plan on using these for”, this seems obvious, “listening to music on” you reply. The shop assistant rolls his eyes “yes but what kind of music”, it’s at this point you’re beginning to get confused “pop music??” you say (feel free to imagine your favourite music genre here). At this point the total rings up on the cash register, $400, you’re shocked, how could these headphones cost this much?, “you should have gone with our, I’m only going to listen to Coldplay package, that would have only cost you $25” says the shop assistant.
You’d be outraged, how can a business justify charging you more just because you want to use a pair of headphones to listen to a diverse range of music, shouldn’t listening to any music you already own or have the right to listen to be possible without paying additional charges.
This is the net neutrality debate, this raging issue is not only filling the news cycle over the past few weeks but is completely inundating social media. Though it appears that New Zealand has mostly not waded into the Net Neutrality debate this issue will undoubtedly reach our shores at some point in the near future. The Debate has seen a line in the sand drawn down the middle of the USA, on one side sit telecoms providers, eager to gain flexibility to limit or control access to sites or services to their own benefit. On the other sits consumers, small businesses and digital giants like Facebook and Google, who have all voiced their opposition to this apparent step backwards with regards to a level digital space.
In the USA data is sold as a service the same way you buy water, gas and power. In February of 2015 the US FCC (Federal Communications Commision) classified broadband as a “telecommunications service” effectively limiting the level of control telecoms providers had previously enjoyed and ensured that all data was treated equally. Individuals are charged for how much data they use, paying no more for visiting Amazon than they would for visiting Trademe.
This control the government exerted over telecoms providers ensured they could not play favourites with content, allowing the growth and development of small businesses, some of which would have undoubtedly not have existed in a world without Net Neutrality. Classifying broadband as a service, though only a minor part of additional regulations, ensures start up companies, small businesses and independent news sites are as easily accessible as their much larger competitors, protecting industry and innovation in the online space.
If, on the 14th of December, the FCC removes this bill the damage to the world wide web will be enormous. Not only will it set a precedent for the rest of the world to follow (including our small slice of paradise in the south pacific) but will have an immediate negative impact on everything from SEO rank (which uses loading time as a quality metric) to paid advertising performance (which also uses load time to estimate the amount per click you are charged). Currently small businesses can get ahead in the digital space by using intelligent SEO techniques, social media engagement and focused paid search. In a world without Net Neutrality companies who are partnered with or owned by telecoms providers will not only have a huge advantage but will dominate their competition.
Hundreds of analogies can be made to how removing Net Neutrality will affect the online marketplace;
This being digital equivalent of barricading access to certain real world stores
This being the same as power companies charging you more for using certain brands of dishwasher
The internet becoming an exclusive club where only the wealthiest of companies are accessible.
But it all boils down to this, in no way will this benefit anyone but some of the richest companies in the world and we should all be very worried.
But where does this all leave us?, you may ask. As I live in NZ my opinion on Net Neutrality isn’t going to affect the outcome in any way. I’m not a US citizen I cannot ring my local political official and voice my opinion. Though many thousands already have, but I can only wait and see the outcome. As the internet becomes more of a necessity each day and we spend increasingly large amounts of time engaged with stores, content and news online it is essential that political officials and lawmakers ‘get with the times’ and protect a neutral net. Going forward you can join me in keeping your ears open and staying informed. Looking for this happening in your country and if it does, letting anyone and everyone who will listen know that allowing your internet provider to throttle the speed at which you can binge watch Stranger Things is not O.K.