Net Neutrality – What a Closed Internet Means – Extra Credits

(Theme song) Today we’re going to talk about Net Neutrality. It’s a concept that affects the game industry deeply and yet it’s often reduced to a vague term thrown around by people to defend or attack a dozen different concepts. So what does Net Neutrality mean? In the broadest sense, it simply means internet service providers can’t discriminate in how they allocate bandwidth to sites. For example, right now, how fast you can access content is limited by the location and capacity of the content provider’s servers, because we functionally exist in a net-neutral environment. But if you took away Net Neutrality, internet service providers could slow your service to a crawl for sites like Youtube or Netflix Sites that require vast amounts of streaming data and so, in effect, cost the ISP more. Now, this if often raised as a civil liberties concern, It’s often brought up that in a world where we do away with Net Neutrality it would be very easy to restrict access to content that the government or major corporations don’t want you to have access to. And while I will fight every day to retain what liberties we still have, I’m actually not sure that’s where the real threat comes here. I think it comes in a much more banal insipid form: simple greed. In a non-net neutral environment, it makes no sense for internet service providers not to basically charge a toll for access to content. You want to watch Youtube videos at a better speed than a 56k modem? Well that’s going to be five extra dollars a month for the special Youtube package. You want to play World of Warcraft? Well, now in addition to paying 15 dollars to Blizzard, you also better pay an extra 10 bucks a month to Comcast to not restrict your bandwidth. And what about competition? I mean, NBC is owned by Comcast. NBC competes with services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Why wouldn’t they make access to those sites laggy and cumbersome while giving full blazing bandwidth to their own products? Or, in terms of games, vivendi still owns millions of dollars worth of Activision Blizzard stock, and various ISPs around the world. Why wouldn’t they make World of Warcraft easy to play, and Guild Wars slow and laggy? But why talk about this now? Well, until recently, Net Neutrality in the United States was guarded by the FCC But in January, a circuit court ruled that this was not part of the Federal Communications Commission’s jurisdiction and, since we have no laws in place addressing Net Neutrality, this sort of opened the flood gates on the issue. For a while, there was some question as to exactly what effect this ruling would have, but, in the last few months, we’ve already seen companies like AT&T file patents for bandwidth discrimination technology. For a gaming world which is ever more dependent on high-speed access and unrestricted bandwidth usage, this sort of thing means higher cost for less service. If you’d like to keep getting a megabyte or more a second while downloading a steam game, you can bet that’s gonna be a premium. More still, what’s to keep companies from making deals with the ISP directly? What if Valve pays your ISP to limit your access to Good Old Games? Sound ridiculous? Maybe so in that case, but Sony or Microsoft paying your ISP to restrict access to the other’s network? EA paying to slow down everyone’s access to Steam in order to make Origin more appealing? Alright, you get the idea. The internet as we know it was built around the idea that content would live or die based around the competition between services offered, which led to the rough and tumble rapidly evolving Web we know today. But imagine if MySpace could’ve paid to limit access to Facebook, or Encyclopedia Britannica could’ve put in money to slow Wikipedia use to a crawl. While many opponents of Net Neutrality say that it goes against the free markets to mandate a net-neutral environment, truth be told, as far as I can tell, a non-net neutral Web is one that stifles competition, and encourages stagnation. It entrenches existing corporations, rather than forcing them to actually compete on the value of their services. Now, we at Extra Credits usually try to understand the argument from both sides of an issue, but, no matter how much digging we’ve done on this one we can’t really find a compelling argument for eliminating Net Neutrality. The vast majority of the proponents of this idea seem to be ISPs or people working fairly directly with them. The best counter argument to a net-neutral environment that I’ve heard is the suggestion that the free market compensates for a non-net neutral environment, by allowing you to change ISPs if the one you’re with right now limits your access in ways you don’t like. And a non-net neutral environment will provide ISPs savings that they can then use to provide you with better service for the content you do want. But, I don’t know how it is where you live, but I don’t have a lot of options as far as ISPs go if I want high speed service where I live. Shopping around for the best service isn’t really possible. The only really strong argument I’ve heard against legislating Net Neutrality is that making Net Neutrality law might be too restrictive. There actually is stuff that the ISPs already filter access to that’s probably beneficial to all of us: Spam bots, potential threats, et cetera, and the argument goes, that any law you put in place wouldn’t be flexible enough to adjust to the ever changing environment of the Internet. This is why allowing the FCC to maintain a policy of Net Neutrality while reviewing things on a case by case basis seems like an eminently workable system to me, but if we can’t have that, there are countries who have mandated forms of Net Neutrality, such as Chile, Japan, and the Netherlands, without stopping ISPs from doing some beneficial filtering. So if legislators would work with experts in the area, I’m sure we could find a solution. But, whatever side of this you fall on, it’s being decided now. Right now, here in America. This is something that will affect how we use the Internet, and how we game for decades to come. How we act here, what we say and where we stand will determine whether future generations get to experience the net-neutral Web we’ve grown up with. We are very much pro-Net Neutrality on E.C., but we believe in democracy even more, so whatever your beliefs on how the Internet should evolve, we encourage you to contact your representative about it. We’ve put a link down below that will easily allow you to find out who represents you in the House and the Senate if you live in the U.S. so you can reach out to them. I’ll see you next week. (Outro Music)

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