I was one of the millions of Americans who already experienced one reason why losing Net Neutrality was not a good thing. The premiere of the second season of Netflix' hot TV series, House of Cards, debuted Valentine's Day weekend with many users forced to put up with constant interruptions and buffering.
Netflix and the ISPs (Comcast and Verizon) shifted the blame back and forth until just yesterday an agreement was struck between Netflix and Comcast in which Netflix will pay Comcast for not degrading its services or as they put it "a more direct connection."
Now that Netflix and Comcast are best friends does it mean we can forget about Netflix streaming issues and Net Neutrality?
No and definitely not. This deal does not guarantee even Comcast subscribers an interruption-free Netflix experience, because while their ISP (Comcast) is no longer throttling Netflix, the connection between Comcast subscribers and Netflix most likely travels through other ISPs along the way who may in turn slow things down as Netflix packets cross their networks. Of course, this precedence will force Netflix to pay Verizon and others to ensure optimal user experience, so we can expect Netflix streaming to return to its high standards in the very near future.
The problem is even if Netflix woes are gone other services will likely be disrupted to force different companies (e.g. Google, Amazon, Walmart, etc) to pay ISPs for using their networks.
You may ask why we should care about tech giants sharing some of their billions with ISPs who allow these companies to thrive. We care because it affects all of us, not just the organizations or employees of ISP-dependent companies.
Innovation. Net Neutrality ensures that all individuals and businesses are given equal access to the Internet. Without Net Neutrality we will end up with monopoly that stifles innovation. Only highly lucrative companies can afford to pay ISPs for transmitting their data, giving them an unfair advantage over all others (i.e. small businesses and individuals). Without Net Neutrality companies like Netflix, Facebook, Youtube would never gotten off the ground as they could never pay for the amount of traffic required to provide their users with adequate experience.
Net Neutrality protects Small Business and as the studies show 13-14 times more patents are created per Small Business employee than by Fortune 1000 employees.
In essence, ISPs are now the gatekeepers who decide which companies/products will stay in business instead of the market deciding for itself. Comcast already tried to push Netflix out through its own Xfinity TV streaming service. Theoretically, we could end up in a bribe war where companies pay ISPs to degrade their competitors. And who is to say that ISPs will not build similar products themselves and disrupt their competitors' services to push them out of business?
World leadership. Without Net Neutrality United States may lose its place at the forefront of the tech industry as businesses move services to countries where Net Neutrality still prevails. Virtually all of today's technology is dependent on the Internet. Tomorrow's future is in the cloud. Cloud computing gives companies a shared pool of resources to reduce IT costs. It also enables entrepreneurs to build cheap innovative solutions without having to buy and maintain their own IT infrastructure. Many companies offer incentive programs (such as Windows Azure BizSpark) to early-stage startups and entrepreneurs. Those same startups now have more reasons to build their products outside of the United States.
Even companies that use only a private cloud will still have some data that must be accessible to employees outside the office, thus passing through an ISP. We can think of e-mail, electronic timecards, and VPN tunnels bridging separate offices as basic examples. Stable Internet service is required for all tech companies to be successful (not just startups). So every tech company or any company that needs access to the Internet is under ISP's control.
Economic downfall. When we eliminated Net Neutrality we also eliminated the freedom and opportunity that led to the success of the Internet and its heart in Silicon Valley. Early innovators living in San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive places in the world, are already strapped for cash without having to worry about overhead ISP costs. Why would any tech startups build products here when they can be pushed out of the business by ISPs if they become successful? Companies can start the same business in another country where they won't have to deal with these problems.
Outsourcing is already moving jobs out of the country at the rate of 150,000 to 300,000 a year. If tech innovation and high-skilled jobs start to move away too, the US economy might not recover.
Small Businesses will not be competitive without Net Neutrality and they are crucial for the US economy (according to Forbes) as 65% of net new jobs have been created by Small Businesses over the past 17 years.
There are some valid reasons for dropping the current Net Neutrality regulations.
1. The current standards are outdated and poorly written.
2. ISPs are continuously pushed to the limit to sustain growing user base and bandwidth usage.
3. Some companies hog all of the Internet traffic, affecting availability for others. For example, Netflix is said to consume up to a third of the entire Internet traffic in North America at peak hours.
The good news is we have many solutions.
1. We could use a business model that already works such as with wireless Internet service where carriers charge mobile users different rates depending on the amount of used bandwidth. If one user is particularly prone to watching Netflix it would make sense that this user's plan would cost more than users with much smaller bandwidth usage (or all users can be capped at same limits). This may be something that Netflix enables in the near future to offset the costs of the Comcast deal and others that will follow.
2. Federal regulation could establish thresholds for ISPs when undue burden is caused by their customers with standards for recovering some of those costs from offenders like Netflix who use up most of the ISP's resources. Arbitration courts could speed up the resolution process.
3. Create more competition (such as Google's own broadband) or enable adequate Internet access for everyone across the country with new technology (such as WiMAX).
Now let's get back to Net Neutrality and build something good for the world!