What Would Happen If The Net Wasn’t “Neutral”?

If you follow tech news, you’ll notice that many reports talk about net neutrality and how it can affect us all negatively if it would be removed. For years, a set of standards existed that kept the internet “fair” for all of its users. Would it be beneficial to lift the veil on it, or should we keep the web balanced? This question goes far into the world of politics, but we’re not going to talk about ideology right now. Instead, let’s talk about the points of view both for and against net neutrality.

You obviously know what the term “net” is, but if you’re asking this question, you probably don’t know what “neutrality” refers to. The term “net neutrality” is used to describe an idea demanding that all data on the internet be treated equally. This means that no one will be charged more for accessing certain websites, like they would on television for viewing channels outside of the base subscription. Net neutrality appears in most developed and developing nations. However, there are varying degrees of centralized regulation of the internet in each one. Despite these nuances, the principles of net neutrality are exercised pervasively in one form or another around the globe.

Do not confuse net neutrality with anti-censorship. It’s easy to mix up the two, but think of it this way: Censorship is more a government thing, but net neutrality deals more with internet service providers and how they treat the data flow to their customers. A “net-neutral” service provider provides the same quality of service (to the best degree it can deliver) for each customer regardless of the website that the customer connects to.

netneutrality-lockdown

With the veil lifted on corporations, they’d be able to charge you in much the same way that your television provider does. If you access a website that’s not part of your “basic package”, you’re subject to extra fees (per gigabyte, per minute, or whatever they deem is appropriate). This is kind of disruptive for a number of reasons:

  1. It damages small-time content publishers that do not have the leverage to convince an internet service provider to include them in a subscription package.
  2. It restricts what users can see and effectively eliminates the idea of the internet being an open forum.
  3. The very companies that exercise closed internet subscriptions will suffer a significant amount of backlash, which will hurt their margins.

Of course, it’s naive to think that fiber and copper (wired internet) providers would engage in severely closed internet packages for their subscribers. Fiber provides a near-infinite amount of bandwidth at such a low cost, that I’m pretty sure they’re not so concerned about throttling services to distribute bandwidth properly. Providers stuck on copper might throttle services slightly (some of them do this already), but they won’t resort to filters. If net neutrality falls, we might see the effects of it exercised on 4G LTE and other wireless carrier networks more than anywhere else.

Aside from these points, there’s also the looming danger that internet service providers will have to succumb to their competition should they close up the web into a little box. Google and a few other service providers have shown strong support for net neutrality. The cost-effectiveness at which a fiber network can be implemented makes it very easy for up-and-coming competitors to eat up the dinosaur service providers. It’s inevitable that non-neutral companies will fail at their game if they try this on wired networks. The story of wireless networks is different, however, because of their nature. For example, carriers having trouble keeping customers will heavily subsidize the phones to attract more contracts. There’s another side to this, though: Their customers could still have the freedom to browse the web through a Wi-Fi connection routed through a fiber network. This is what they count on, and why mobile subscribers might not think of it as “such a raw deal.”

Don’t get me wrong: It’s going to be very painful if any service provider closes up the web. It’s just unlikely that such a model will prevail in the long run considering the high availability of resources available to entrepreneurs who want to provide neutral access to the internet.

Are we in danger of losing neutrality? What do you think providers will do if neutrality requirements were lifted? Let us know in a comment below!

11 comments

  1. My concern is that ISPs will want to determine what I should or should not have access to, because of management philosophy. Or being limited to only the sites/content of the ISP’s largest advertisers.

  2. If the service providers are adding facilities, equipment and lines to provide that expanded service, then sure they should be able to recoup the investment by higher fees on those willing to pay the extra freight …

    But for the infrastructure we consumers has already financed for them, the existing service should like any other utility, based on their operating costs.

  3. What? What planet have you been on?

    The debate is NOT whether an ISP would “restrict” users to a certain number of websites, but whether an ISP has the right to charge content providers more if they use up a far more significant amount of bandwidth!

    When the Internet first started, each node (ISP basically) agreed to “host” each other’s data traffic for free, basically, “I’ll pass your data on and you pass on mine”. That was all wonderful when 256MBS of data was the norm. Enter Netflix. They are sending MASSIVE amounts of data to end-users but offer very little to ISPs in exchange. Why should Comcast, or Charter have to keep upgrading their capacity simply because 2 or 3 large content providers are taking up 80% of their bandwidth?

    THAT is the problem, not whether an ISP will restrict what sites you can go to. Sheesh, if you’re going to write an article, at least get your facts straight.

    • Forgive me for being blunt, but if you’ve read the piece, you’d notice that there was very little mention of censorship and much more mention of throttling/discriminating bandwidth for services. I myself don’t really care one way or another about this debate, since I think that fiber will solve most of these problems. The real issue is the U.S.’ dependency on copper, which doesn’t provide nearly as many speeds and is much more difficult to maintain.

      • “I think that fiber will solve most of these problems”
        Fiber may solve the bandwidth and throughput problems but it will not solve the problems of ISPs controlling access for whatever reason. That “problem” can only be solved by legislation mandating that ISPs do not discriminate against content providers. i.e. legislation mandating Net Neutrality.

        “The real issue is the U.S.’ dependency on copper”
        Not “dependency” but “reliance.” US providers could switch to fiber easily, however, they keep finding reasons not to. IMO, they are waiting for, or trying to figure out how to make, the governemnt (taxpayers) pay for the switch.

    • Also, as an addendum, mobile providers do want the right to limit their subscribers to a selection of websites, charging them more to enter the wide web. They’ve actually managed to do this to some extent, and it’s perfectly forgivable considering their infrastructure situation and limited spectrum availability.

      • Fiber vs. copper has nothing to do with the idea of Net Neutrality. The term refers to the the principle that ISPs should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging deferentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or modes of communication. The physical layer of the process is irrelevant.

        Any medium is going to have its maximum capacity and that limit will be reached every time. The issue is how ISPs can provide reasonable speeds to their subscribers when the majority of their bandwidth is being taken up by a half-dozen content providers who give up nothing in return.

        When end-users start to complain about dropped or lagging services, the ISPs have to do something to address it or they will lose subscribers. Normally this means building out more infrastructure which costs money. Those costs are going to be paid by either the subscription customer OR the content providers who are taking up the bulk of the bandwidth.

        As a consumer, I think its reasonable for the content providers, and ultimately THEIR customer’s to pay for the data being pumped over the ISPs network. Someone is going to pay that cost, its just a matter of who.

        As for mobile providers, this is still a relatively new market. I’ve seen them limit the speeds people can use after their paid-for allotment, but I’ve never heard of them restricting what sites a customer can access. I can guarantee you that if that starts to happen, other carriers will start marketing to those customer’s offering a completely open Internet and the whole idea will fail miserably. There is far too much completion in the mobile marketplace for that kind of thing to become a standard. AOL attempted it in the early days of the Internet and look what happened to them. They went from the #1 provider to … where are they, #10,000 or so today?

        • “Those costs are going to be paid by either the subscription customer OR the content providers who are taking up the bulk of the bandwidth.”
          There is no “OR” about it. The ISPs want the customer AND the content providers to pay, maximizing their revenue. (see cable TV)

          “There is far too much completion (sic) in the mobile marketplace for that kind of thing to become a standard. ”
          Words like “collusion” and “cartel” come to mind.

        • The consumer is going to end up paying more if net neutrality goes away. If Netflix is charged more for the bandwidth it uses, then that will surely get passed on to the consumer. I can see why big cable is in this fight because the more a customer pays for Netflix, the more competitive big cable becomes. Right now they are losing customers in droves. Consumers don’t want their over-priced bundled services and removing neutrality will ensure consumers keep paying through the nose.

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