Net Neutrality is important but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

You may have heard a record 9 million complaints have already bombarded the US FCC on the subject of Net Neutrality following plans to allow ISPs to charge content and managed services to use their service based on a number of contested reasons including how bandwidth heavy they are.

Obvious to the ‘Millennial’ generation, the internet is not broken. If it were, you would hear about it. With the advent of 5G in the coming decade, it will be increasingly clear that this debate is about competition and private enterprise, not video on demand, VPNs, and MSPs clogging up the system.

I agree with the internet and social media expert and Harvard lecturer Clay Shirky’s 2009 assertion that we are in the greatest media revolution since the Gutenberg Press. I also agree with social media guru and online advertising agency entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s frequent message that the smart phone has become the television and the television has become the radio.

Everyone is their own media company today.

If you are in business then at least part of you functions like a media company in promoting yourself. Millennials might be more inclined to do this but anyone can open a publication or media company for an insignificant amount today. Not just for traditional ‘print’ media but video and audio as well.

The internet revolution has diminished the monopoly of a few central media stakeholders – degrading net neutrality effectively moves in the direction of reversing this trend by placing unchecked power in the hands of a few ISPs to open or close the gates to content providers depending on price, ownership or affiliation or, in fact, nearly any reason they like.

Net neutrality is not about censorship so it’s probably time to drop the term ‘neutrality’ which excites the popular press. It also isn’t actually about throttling bandwidth to preserve service. It’s about competition and utility-type rules for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who may wish to operate a more open market supply and demand model for services.

ISPs are having a hard time coming to terms with their status a utility. Today, that’s essentially what they are. All of the anti-trust considerations of the electricity market and the question of who pays for interconnectors and grid connection are coming home to roost for internet service providers many of whom are simultaneously telecoms providers.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about throttling VOIP services but the (by current standards) bandwidth hungry video, VPN or MSP services.

Because of various pieces of existing legislation, I cannot buy the argument that full net neutrality will lead to more Government snooping through ‘regulation’ – the cat is out of the bag already. And to say that the internet has survived fine with little regulation up to now ignores the current net neutrality regulations.

Should ISPs be constrained by rules and regulations which may, in some circumstances, stifle competition, push prices down and mean that only larger players can make a decent profit margin through economies of scale? Is it fair that someone could found a video sharing platform this very day which because of genius, hard work, and business acumen becomes a multimillion dollar business within a year – but which doesn’t pay a penny more to an enabling ISP? It just depends on whether society accepts internet service as a full utility or not.

The problem largely revolves around the US FCC reclassifying broadband as an ‘information service’ rather than a ‘telecoms service’.

Charging content or managed service providers more for most reasons would be tantamount to an additional business tax tapered according to popularity, business success or perhaps even how much that service competed with the ISPs own offering of that nature. Asking the consumer to pay for GB / TB used, as is the case at the moment, is a much fairer consumption type tax.

Of course, we can argue that net neutrality needs to be brought into the C21st because the rules are largely based on the US 1996 Telecoms Act which some argue is an internet revamp of the 1934 Communications Act and maybe that is the case.

Ultimately, we need to update the ‘net neutrality’ debate from the argument that bandwidth hungry services are ruining the internet for the rest of us. Unless your whole neighborhood is running Netflix from your home router (in which case you should really change your password), they are not.

On the other hand, where does anti-trust action end I hear you ask? Should we berate a particular social media network’s algorithm for favoring one type of content over another? We’re all Madmen (and women) now.

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Phelim Rowe

Phelim Rowe is an International Conference Director and Analyst with experience both in international private industry and the UK civil service. He has various interests in public policy on the local and...

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