One of the things we can expect to see after Trump takes office in January is the demise of Net Neutrality, which some say will signal the end of a free Internet.
News organizations that like to have obituaries written and ready to go to bed well before a death actually occurs might want to go ahead and assign someone the task of writing an obit for Net Neutrality. Without a doubt, one thing that’s sure to happen when Trump begins his weekly commute to the Oval Office is an end to the legal principle that Internet service providers should treat all Internet traffic equally.
Commissioner Ajit Pait, the man most likely to be appointed Trump’s head of the FCC, at least on an interim basis, pretty much put that icing on the cake last week. Speaking before a luncheon celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Free State Foundation, a “bipartisan think tank” that advocates “free market, limited government, and rule of law,” Pait said, “On the day that the Title II Order was adopted, I said that ‘I don’t know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered.’ Today, I am more confident than ever that this prediction will come true.”
ISPs, of course, don’t like Net Neutrality any more than big business likes any regulation — other than those that benefit them. They claim it places a burden on them and that they need the ability to prioritize traffic so that “important” traffic can be put in the fast lane while not so important traffic is relegated to the slow lane. Net Neutrality, they say, would cost them money on the equipment needed to give all traffic equal footing.
This argument didn’t really make sense 15 years ago when everything from servers to storage was more expensive, and it certainly makes no sense now when servers come with commodity pricing. The ISPs are right about one thing; it is about money. Money to be put in their pockets.
This isn’t about throttling text based websites to make sure that sites that depend on a fast connection to work — Netflix, Skype or Vonage, for instance — can get their product delivered. Just the opposite. ISPs want to have the ability to hold a figurative gun to the temples of companies that require reliably fast connections, and charge them a premium for a ride in the fast lane.
Think not? In 2014, during another period when it appeared that Net Neutrality’s days might be numbered, Netflix reluctantly struck deals with some of the larger ISPs to assure the availability of the bandwidth it needs for its service to work properly. The improvement was immediate. That August, before striking a deal with Netflix, Verizon was seventh on a list kept by Netflix ranking the speed it was getting from major ISPs. A month later, after signing the deal, Verizon topped the list, becoming the fastest carrier for Netflix in the U.S.
Who pays for this? Duh… Its the only place where trickle down economics actually works.
Those who believe in the “magic of the marketplace” might think this is fair. After all, Netflix consumes bandwidth at the rate that Cadillacs of old consumed gasoline, so why shouldn’t they have to pay for it? Especially since all of the other video providers will be paying too — meaning it’ll be a level playing field.
Those who know that the “magic of the marketplace” is, like all other magic, made of smoke, mirrors and diversion, know differently. The playing field is not level — and hardly ever is.
Example: one of Netflix’s biggest competitors is Hulu, which is owned in part by Comcast, with 17 million customers the country’s largest broadband ISP, and Time Warner Cable, which is ranked third, with 14 million customers in 39 states. When Comcast customers use Hulu, the data used does not count against their data caps, as it does when they use Netflix. When Net Neutrality is killed, Netflix can expect the same lopsided treatment, and will need to pay Comcast for speed while Hulu will not.
This uneven playing field won’t only apply to streaming video. Most, if not all, cable companies also offer telephone service these days, and its a given that VoIP services such as Vonage will be held for ransom if they expect enough speed for reliable telephone service.
The list goes on.
The death of Net Neutrality isn’t the least of our worries, however, when it comes to Trump and telecom deregulation. During his campaign, the presidential apprentice also vowed to completely do away with the FCC. Considering that the FCC is responsible for allocating the use of all radio frequencies, and has been since the passage of the Communications Act of 1934, I’m wondering how that’s going to work out for the telcoms’ wireless services.