To judge by the uproar in social media over the past few days, you might imagine that “net neutrality” is some long standing principle which has protected the internet from evil corporatations who would otherwise destroy it. Well, it is most certainly not long standing as the FCC rules have only been in effect since 2015. Apparently, in all the years prior to that, the internet was slowly but surely being driven into the ground. Or was It? I don’t remember it that way but perhaps some of you do.
The idea that all traffic online must be treated in the same fashion is an odd one. Why it is that heavy users of bandwidth, whether they be suppliers or consumers of content, should not be treated differently than more casual ones? Why should Grandma, who only checks her email or looks at family photos on Facebook, pay the same as her grandson who plays games and streams video 12 hours a day? And if a content provider such as Netflix or Hulu is willing to pay more to have their content in the fast lane, why is that wrong?
It is also curious that the loudest outcry about any changes in these rules is from the Left. (Although, to be fair, It has come from conservatives and libertarians as well.) Their concern is supposedly the effect that this may have on internet freedom, with unpopular and alternative ideas shunted off the information superhighway onto some sort of World Wide Dirt Road. I say curious because it is many of these same voices which are seeking to suppress ideas they dislike, whether it is on the internet or in our universities.
Until the internet was opened up to commercial activity, their was little bandwidth or content. It was the increasing demand for both which spurred the kind of investment required to make it what it is today. It was not so many years ago that downloading a single picture or song was measured in minutes, not fractions of a second. All that changed, not because some agency required it but because it was profitable. We have all reaped the benefits.
To me, the greatest danger to the internet is not from “greedy corporations” but from government regulation and control. The current net neutrality rules may seem innocuous enough and appear to serve some valuable purpose but I prefer to trust the future to free minds and free markets, not the wisdom of bureaucrats. (I believe that last clause is an oxymoron.) Until next time, live long and prosper!