Thoughts on FCC’s Net Neutrality Ruling

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The internet is a truly astounding creation, perhaps the pinnacle of communication and the best mechanism for the dissemination of information.  The number of smart phones is also higher than ever and often when I look down at mine I’m left in awe by the fact that I’m holding the entirety of humanity’s knowledge in my hands. Practically anything I could ever need to know is just a swipe, tap, or a click away.  It is arguably the technological achievement that has most transformed our daily lives.  To illustrate my point, consider the following statistics:

·       The amount of time Americans spend watching videos online (in hours) has increased by 70%.

·       Revenues from online video services increased by 3.26 billion between the years of 2010 and 2013.  (1.86 billion to 5.12 billion)

·       Pandora Radio had 75.3 million active listeners as of March 2014. This represents an increase of 8 percent over the previous year. 

·       Pandora served 1.71 billion hours of music in March 2014.

·       Pandora’s overall share of the US radio listening market is up a whopping 8.05 percent to 9.11% when compared to the same period just a year ago.

·       There are over 100 million songs in Pandora’s library representing over 100,000 artists

But to get a real idea of the scope of internet media, look no further than the King of streaming video, Youtube.

·       YouTube receives over 1 Billion unique visitors per month and deliver over 6 Billion hours of video in the same time!

·       Every minute, 100 hours of video are added to Youtube’s servers.

·       YouTube performs far better than any cable company in the US at reaching the coveted US Male 18-34 demographic.

·       There are over 1 million advertisers who use Google ad platforms.

·       Mobile comprises close to 40 percent of Youtube’s total watch time. 

And those are just a couple of examples from the millions upon millions of websites. The truly mind blowing part is this is just the beginning.  As you’ve no doubt heard we are quickly approaching the internet of things; a reality where everything from your car to your coffee machine are connected to the web.  We’ve already heard all about Google’s self driving car and their flashy purchase of Nest home thermostats. It is quickly becoming ubiquitous and it’s happening faster than we think. 

This is why the FCC’s latest proposal, an affront on “Net Neutrality”, is something all the netizens of the world must be outraged about. One of the the FCC’s proposals would allow for “Fast Lanes” basically allowing content providers with deep pockets to pay internet service providers extra so that they will deliver their content faster.  That’s no sweat for the big guys like YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu but as we’ve often seen, when large companies move into a sector and are able to get rid of all the competition prices invariably get knocked up (Right Comcast?!).  Look no further than Netflix for an early look at how bad this can get.  Netflix has recently agreed to terms with Comcast and Verizon whereby they will be paying extra money for more reliable service.  Speed and stability had been noticeably lacking on the aforementioned ISPs and has since picked up.  So all’s well right? Wrong, those extra costs are soon being passed on to new users as a rate increase.  Some will argue that it’s just an extra 2 dollars or so per month, just an extra 24 dollars a year.  This may be true but it certainly feels like a slippery slope.

We need to keep the internet open, free, and equally accessible to everyone.  One of the fantastic things about the internet is how ferociously competitive it is.  There are just so many services available for anything you can want that the leaders in any given niche must really go above and beyond to keep customers happy.  In the long run that means better service and lower prices for the little guy.  Obviously though, leave it to the US government to support big business rather than their own citizens. 

In an industry already rife with allegations of price gouging, the concept that some users could be forced to pay extra for better or faster service is infuriating, insulting, and a direct assault to Internet culture as we have come to know it (the good parts of internet culture).  The internet has become an indispensable tool for all of humanity and we cannot allow it to be hijacked by corporations. In essence, the only winners under the proposed rules are the Comcasts of the world who can then pick and choose which information gets access to the fast lanes and profit from it while the rest of us need to sit in traffic with our bandwidths throttled. The argument could be made that in the above scenario, it would be in Comcast’s best interest to make the slow service as slow as possible so that more users become annoyed and opt for the premium level.  The rich content providers also don’t make out too bad as they can pay extra to have their content take precedent. And relegated to last place are the little guys.

None of this means much for services like Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube who can easily afford the extra costs but some of your other favorites may not be so lucky.  There’s also the question of innovation and upkeep. Sure Netflix or YouTube can afford to pay the extra cost but perhaps that was money earmarked for research on 4K video or content acquisition.  In the long run, only the ISPs really win.

A two tier internet is just another example of enriching the 1% at the expense of everyone else including you and I. Keeping the internet open is the right thing to do.  To take this wonderful thing we’ve created and turn it over to corporate America would be a travesty of epic proportions.

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