Its eloquent name notwithstanding, Net Neutrality was a horrible idea.
I’ll demonstrate with an analogy. The internet was called the ‘information superhighway’ way back when AOL was called America Online and was actually the second largest online service to a company called Prodigy. Raise your walking cane if you remember Prodigy. So let’s take that a step further and compare the Internet to an actual highway.
A point of clarification: nobody is connected directly to the world wide web, and the web with our without ‘net neutrality’ will be free and open. We are given access to that mysterious collection of semiconductors and fiber optics through ISPs. Now, ISP’s have the unenviable task of investing millions into servers, personnel, and the stringing millions of miles of fiber optic cables to millions of homes, paying a rental fee for every telephone and utility pole they use to hold their cable along the way. And it’s not just a one-time cost. ISP’s have had to constantly upgrade and invest more along the way to keep up with the traffic.
For purposes of our analogy all of those fiber optic cables and servers provided by the ISP’s are the highway — let’s call it the Cable Highway. Things on the Cable highway were going fairly smoothly as compact cars and even smart cars were zipping along and not taking up much room. That was until a hand full of cement companies began sending their huge cement trucks on the highway. The weight of these trucks started to wear out the roads. At first, the cars and trucks got along fine, but then the cement companies began sending thousands of their trucks down the highway until 70% of all traffic on the Cable highway were cement trucks. It slowed traffic and pushed the cars to the side. The people in charge of the Cable highway had no choice but to spend all their money building more and bigger lanes for all of these trucks.
The cement companies were making billions of dollars thanks to the road which they used for free. In fact, the cement companies had almost no overhead or costs, yet still paid nothing to help maintain the roads that were so crucial to their business.
There were smaller highways that ran parallel to the superhighway. Let’s call them the Verizon and AT&T highways. Some of the cement trucks traveled on these highways which provided some small relief to the people taking care of the big Cable highway. But the Verizon and AT&T roads became toll roads and the people who were receiving the goods from trucks that used the Verizon and AT&T highways were told, “If you keep making these cement trucks travel on our roads, we’re going to charge you much, much higher fees. In other words, we’re going to throttle you with fees.” So those people bought wireless routers and smartphones and pushed almost all of those cement trucks off of the Verizon and AT&T roads and dumped them onto the Cable highway.
The people taking care of the Cable highway said, “Wait, this isn’t fair. You cement companies are taking advantage of us and everybody else. You’re literally getting a free ride on our highway and our money. You should be helping to pay for these roads.” The cement companies refused, so the people closed a couple lanes on the Cable highway because they couldn’t afford to just keep investing millions and millions more so a handful of billionaires could make even more money off them.
So, the cement companies — let’s call them Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and Facebook — went to their friends in the federal government and demanded that they pass a law that said that the people building and maintaining the highway shouldn’t be allowed to ask cement companies to help pay for the building and maintenance of the highway. We’ll call the law something nice like ‘Net Neutrality’ and use words like ‘free and open internet’ to help sell it to the public. They’ll think it’s vital to save humanity when really all it will be is a way for us to avoid paying our fair share.
(Keep in mind who were among candidate and President Obama’s most ardent supporters. Yes, the Silicon Valley chapter of the Billionaire Boys club – Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, et al. “Say, Mr. President, it would be a shame if cable companies made us pay our fair share for internet traffic. Here’s a bunch of money for your campaign. We came up with something called ‘Net Neutrality.’ You’re going to love it. See to it that it’s implemented.”)
In the end, the cable and the trucking industries are the same: they both provide transportation. Cable companies provide a path for e-commerce and online video companies to transport their information to their customers, while trucks transport hard goods over physical highways. Each of them do this at an expense. Trucks pay higher taxes and fees to help maintain the roads. In the online video and social media industries, though, the ‘trucks’ are refusing to accept responsibility for maintaining the information superhighway.
Now, you are free to shed your tears for the Silicon Valley chapter of the Billionaire Boys club and fall for their apocalyptic warnings of the death of the Internet, but I assure you they will be fine. For those screaming about the GOP Tax reform bill being a giveaway to the wealthy (which is woefully inaccurate) where is your outrage for the wealthy Silicon Valley bullies who are getting a free ride on your cable bill?
Finally, despite the dire warnings of the death of innovation because of this move, remember that ‘Net Neutrality’ came into existence just two years ago. All of the major companies at the center of this debate — YouTube, Netflix, etc — existed long before then. The repeal of this horrible scheme will have not one iota of an effect on innovation. It will flourish just as it did for all of the years the Internet existed before ‘net neutrality.’