Net Neutrality

By: Philip St. Jean

On April 23, Net Neutrality rules were fully repealed with hundreds protesting its repeal and hundreds cheering for its removal. But plenty of people are still asking, what exactly Net Neutrality is?

Defining Net Neutrality can be difficult, especially when both the left and right define it and its characteristics so differently. A common explanation of Net Neutrality given by the Left is that “Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use”[1].

The Left’s main concern is the fear of internet service providers (ISPs) throttling content that consumers wish to see. With Net Neutrality ISPs must allow consumers access to the entire internet. Another definition of net neutrality is “the idea that internet service providers (ISPs), […], should treat all internet traffic equally”[2].

Here we get to the Right’s argument against Net Neutrality. If ISPs were allowed to throttle some content the consumer didn’t use they would be able to provide “fast lanes” for the content the consumer uses regularly. The Left views it as the ISP selfishly throttling content. The Right claims that ISPs are being prevented from improving services they could provide.

The Left and the Right both make good points here, we have seen ISPs throttle services in the past, such as in the case of Verizon v. Netflix, [3] but the Right points out that if the ISP continued in this the consumers that used the throttled service would have switched providers, forcing the ISP to cease throttling to try and retain customers. The Left and the Right both make good points here, but they both confused.

The Left assumes that ISPs will have a monopoly and that customers will have no choice but to pay absurdly high bills for throttled content. The Right assumes no monopoly whatsoever in which the free market would produce a new ISP to replace the unsatisfactory one. In reality, ISPs have a pseudo-monopoly granted to them by local government hiring, licensing, and ‘right of way’ fees. It is already extremely expensive to lay new cable. It requires a large investment, a good deal of time, as well as convincing current consumers to switch to a new service. Several estimates place the fees required by local governments on laying new cable to as much as double, as well as increasing the time it takes lay new cable.

There are therefore very few incentives for an entrepreneur to enter the market to create a new ISP, meaning that current pseudo monopoly ISPs can throttle content to some degree without consequences [4].

If you’d like to learn more about the right of way fees and other licensing fees imposed by local governments click here.

[1] Brandom, Russell. “Verizon admits to throttling video in apparent violation of Net Neutrality.” The Verge. July 21, 2017. Accessed December 10, 2017.

[2] Berin Szoka, Matthew Starr, and Jon Henke. “Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition.” Wired. July 16, 2013. Accessed December 11, 2017.

[3] Press, Free. “Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now.” Free Press. Accessed December 9, 2017.

[4] Lee, Timothy B. “What is network neutrality?” Vox. April 11, 2014. Accessed December 10, 2017.