Finally! Someone came up with a simple explanation of why network neutrality is important (even vital). David Auerbach, in Slate, makes an excellent analogy:
In the late 1990s, the deregulation of the California utilities—which forced them to sell off their power supplies to independent electricity wholesalers—proved to be a disaster. The magic hand of the market was supposed to bring down energy fees for all. What happened instead was that “efficient markets” turned out to be nothing of the sort. In 2000, market manipulation, artificial scarcity created by shutting down power plants to reduce supply, and deliberately inferior service resulted in blackouts and brownouts, an 800 percent rise in energy prices, and lucrative profiteering by Enron. Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric went bankrupt, and the whole crisis cost somewhere upward of $40 billion.
Electricity wholesalers such as Enron are akin to Internet service providers such as Time Warner and Comcast in important ways. The electricity wholesalers had incentives to starve the energy market in order to extract greater fees from utilities and consumers. ISPs have similar incentives to manipulate their bandwidth in order to extract fees from websites (such as Netflix and YouTube), as well as not build out any infrastructure that would make bandwidth cheaper or make your Internet faster.
This is, in fact, what is already happening.
Auerbach goes on to give concrete examples of this. Large ISPs are deliberately creating “bandwidth brownouts” until they get paid off, sort of like a data protection racket. “You’ve got a nice internet there. Shame if anything should happen to it.”
Over at Vox, Matthew Yglesias provides even more proof that broadband carriers are deliberately creating scarcity, and then lying about it. The industry claims that broadband investment is going up, but in reality it is going down. Way down.
Meanwhile, ISPs are launching a PR campaign to shamelessly scare you away from supporting net neutrality. As Brad Reed on BGR puts it, the ISPs had a good thing going — including former cable lobbyist as head of the FCC — but they couldn’t help themselves and got greedy. Now they are facing a backlash.
Who will win? It is hard to say, but it is clear that the only thing that will keep our internet free is continued pressure from us. Because the big ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner sure don’t care about their customers.
UPDATE: The EFF has created a website DearFCC.org that makes it easy to tell the FCC how you feel about net neutrality.
UPDATE 2: The FCC has approved a plan that will end net neutrality, by allowing telecoms to charge content providers extra for faster service.