Net Neutrality Explained
November 26, 2017 | There is a lot of misinformation in the debate around net neutrality and much of it stems from confusion about what it actually means and how it works. Corporate interests have played no small role in creating this confusion by playing on citizens’ fears of government intervention and regulation. On the forefront of this is Ajit Pai, the current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who has sworn to eliminate net neutrality—a vital safeguard of democracy. In the interest of protecting net neutrality, here is a simple explanation to better understand the situation. Imagine that in lieu of arguing about the internet, we are instead talking about water. Water is federally regulated as a utility, so it provides a good example of how the internet should be regulated.
Water is the essence of wetness… and also an apt metaphor for net neutrality
You have always been a shower person. You think they’re faster, easier, and overall provide you with more satisfaction. You like showers so much, in fact, that you have invested a lot of money into your shower. As the consumer, you want to be able to shower whenever and without a corporation telling you that you cannot. Unfortunately, your water company, one of only two in your county, has recently invested a ton of money in a local manufacturer of baths. They saw that they were missing out on some vital component of the washing phase and decided baths were where it was. Now the water company has an interest in seeing you take more baths. To make this happen, they start out small, using little things that you’ll notice in the back of your mind but won’t fully comprehend. For instance, they start by lowering your water pressure when you take a shower. Sure, it bugs you a bit, but you can’t do much about it and you keep taking showers. Unsatisfied with this reaction, the water company begins to offer plans for bringing the water pressure back to the original pressure. The plan is going to cost a little bit more money, but of course bath water will always stay the same price. Eventually they will continue to lower the pressure and raise the prices until almost everyone is taking baths now instead of showers… but at least the government didn’t intervene.
This is the same as the internet without net neutrality.
The showers are your chosen websites. Your premium shower supplies are money you’ve already invested in streaming services like Netflix. The baths are the streaming services and websites hosted by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or similar big name broadcasters who pay extra for their streaming services to be featured by this ISP. The lack of pressure is broadband throttling—the slowing down of your chosen websites that your ISP is directing you away from. Those premium plans are the same: the offer is to have the same speed, but for a little extra a month.
Of course, the two “water companies” are the sole ISPs available to you. Indeed, 67% of Americans have 2 or fewer ISPs in their location, and 30% of Americans cannot even choose their ISP. Without competition, no argument can be made that lack of government regulation helps consumers. Even the staunchest of capitalists will warn against the dangers of monopoly and oligopoly in markets without government intervention, as they are actually more inefficient and cause market failure.
This is not the internet we want, nor deserve as a democracy and free market society.
Call your congresswomen and congressmen today and tell them to oppose Ajit Pai’s plans to make the internet a shell of its current self.
Julian Strachan is pursuing a Master's in Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror itself.