Net Neutrality has been framed as a debate between corporate giants who can well-afford to pay to publish their content, and rightly should. But that’s a straight-up lie. Let’s try a thought experiment, shall we? Imagine the public outcry if UPS suddenly announced the following:
You know, we’ve been opening all the packages from Amazon and we notice that most of those books are from a few big publishers. So, even though you have Amazon Prime and both you and Amazon have paid for 2-day service, we want Random House, Simon and Schuster and the rest of the Big 5 to pay us an access fee. Don’t worry, we won’t throttle back anybody’s service but we will prioritize the delivery of content produced by those who have paid the access fee. Oh, and by the way, we might not be able to meet the service level agreement on your other 2-day packages due to congestion. But it’s OK because we aren’t actually throttling those down. We are just throttling everything else up.
First of all, would you not be mad about that whole “we opened up your packages” thing? The ENTIRE net neutrality debate hinges on the need for your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to know something about the content you are receiving. If you attempt to tunnel that content through a secure connection, they already penalize you for it. So right off the bat, there’s a massive economic incentive to do online something you would NEVER do in the physical world – to run all your communication over the digital equivalent of post cards rather than sealed packages and envelopes. Net neutrality says privacy isn’t your right but something you pay for, and only those who can afford it can enjoy it. That’s about as anti-American as it gets.
The even more pernicious aspect of this hypothetical scenario is that when UPS needs to scale up due to volume, rather than adjust their price to you either directly or through Amazon, they instead decide that the publishing houses have a stake in this since it is their books that represent most of the packages being delivered. Therefore, UPS argues, these big publishers must pay for access to the UPS delivery infrastructure. They then create a business model that coerces otherwise uninvolved 3rd parties into paying ransom, depends entirely on the practice of opening and inspecting the contents of all your packages, and then seeks to enshrine and protect this business model through legislative protection.
In real life, this scenario would die in less time than it takes for an Amazon prime package to be delivered to your door. But unfortunately digital delivery is less well understood than is package logistics and otherwise rational people who should recognize this for the blackmail that it is end up supporting it. I can understand that when it is a non-specialist. But this includes your elected representatives folks. They are supposed to gain enough specialized knowledge of the things on which they make policy to do so soundly. That they are not doing so makes you wonder whether they are corrupt or ignorant because the recent rulings cannot have been created by competent policy makers. Because it really is as simple as this:
For UPS, a package is a package is a package.
For your ISP, a packet is a packet is a packet.
Or, at least it should be. But it is not. And there will be serious consequences, intended and otherwise, because of that. Soon.
Update: The conversation continues in Net Neutrality – Part 2.