John Oliver finally woke up the sleeping masses to the boring but incredibly important net neutrality discussion a few weeks ago with his brilliant, closing-argument style summation of the issue. Well, now that we’re awake, we might as well understand what’s really going on. Fortunately, Wired today began a series that will provide just that context for you.
If I told you the Net needs to be neutral, you’d probably give me a hearty, “I guess so.” If I told you your Netflix movies and shows might not work so well pretty soon, you’d probably be outraged. But both these things are terrible caricatures of a critical issue that’s being abused on all sides. I’ve long been concerned that consumers are caught in the middle of a fight between two groups: “very large companies” and “other very large companies.” Both sides just want to make more money; neither of them represent you and some greater Internet ideal or anything like that.
If AT&T wants to change Netflix more money to deliver movies to you, that’s not really your problem. And it’s not necessarily the end of the Internet as we know it. The problem is the ability for Internet service providers to make your Internet service suck at any point. For movie watching, yes, but for anything: for accessing BobSullivan.net, for example, or for accessing the latest new app made by a startup. As the article explains (please read it), Internet giants already have peering arrangements with ISPs that give them a kind of preferred fast-lane content delivery network for a price. The problem isn’t creation of a fast lane. The problem is creation of a slow lane. The problem is no one trusts cable companies and other Internet service providers, for good reason. The problem is regulations don’t guarantee minimum service levels. And most of all, as Wired says, the problem is a terrible lack of competition. After all, if your ISP was ruining your Netflix experience, but you could easily switch providers, you’ d have no problem. The problem is regulators have refused to manage the industry in a way that creates competition. (Heck, that’s the problem in nearly all U.S. industries today).
Never forget: Business schools in America today do not teach young MBAs how to win a fight in a free market. They teach MBAs how to create protected markets where profits can soar unchecked by competition. In a complex system like delivery of Internet access, creating free market conditions is not trivial, but that doesn’t mean we should leave the thing to the monopolists. So while you are all worked up over cable company f###ery, take the next step and start fighting for a free market. Fight for real options when you connect to the Internet, fight for guarantees that you’ll get what you pay for, and the “neutrality” thing will largely take care of yourself.