I’ve been following the debate regarding net neutrality for sometime and recently gave a talk to a group of small business people about how it could affect them directly. But in the past few days I’ve become increasingly sanguine about it all. From where I stand today, whether it is mandated by federal edict may be entirely unnecessary.
There are four reasons for this:
- It died long ago on the receiver end
- It’s almost dead on the transmission end
- Technological advances in compression make any difference in speed unobservable
- The Federal Clown College (FCC) has so little understanding of the issues they would screw it up even if they did it right.
Let’s take a look at reason #1.
I buy the highest speed possible from Comcast because I need it for my business. I do a lot of video work and I need the speed. But I live and work in an area of my town where there are only a few Comcast customers who use this kind of bandwidth. Stanford University Hospital … and me. I discovered this reality this past year when I reported a degradation in service to Comcast and they said they had no other reports, but in checking down the line, they found some equipment problems that was slowly going south. When the University started to complain, they were able to triangulate off my service and theirs to find the problem.
What does this have to do with net neutrality? The basic doctrine says that everyone should have equal access to the internet for the equivalent price, yet for years ISPs have been providing different levels of internet speed on the receiver end with no complaints. No other Comcast subscriber in my area would notice any performance difference until the equipment completely failed, because their chosen service speed was considerably slower than mine. So net neutrality has no noticeable affect on the consumer for the most part. That’s why so few people either understand nor care about the issue.
Now for reason #2.
Google’s Youtube has been gating content in favor of those who pay for some time. More often than not you will bring up a Youtube video and immediately a commercial will appear. After a few seconds you have the option of clicking out of it, but when you do, the video you originally clicking on will take a while to load. That’s because Youtube will make absolutely sure the ad runs right away, but your free video doesn’t get the same response. So Youtube has violated the net neutrality doctrine for quite a while. That’s just one example. Since the FCC doctrine was knocked down, Netflix has already made a deal with Comcast — one that they don’t like but agreed to anyway — to get preferential access to the network.
There will be time for the public to make comment on the new doctrine guidelines, but unless the opposition actually causes some legislators to lose their job, it seems clear the clowns are going to move forward. That means we need reason #3 to override the decision.
Technology is advancing rapidly especially in the compression world. Junko Yoshida reporting at NAB a few weeks ago wrote about a product that reduces bit rate requirements by as much as 50 percent, even on compressed data, with no loss of quality. Another company I’ve run across ( and plan to look into more closely) is claiming to speed up wifi connections by up to a factor of 3. Technologies like these will easily bypass slower connections and make the hi-speed “lanes” from Comcast an unnecessary expense.
So, while the Federal Clowns flail about to regulate a business and technologies they don’t understand and corporate behemoths try to lobby their way to hegemony, I’m feeling pretty positive about the future, thanks to some very innovative people.