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How the Death of Net Neutrality Effects You

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The potential impact of the Google-Verizon proposal to end wireless net neutrality on bloggers, niche social network owners, and ecommerce sites seems to be misunderstood or not even realized by many of my colleagues in the the Web design and development business. This surprises me as their livelihoods depend on the ability of their clients to compete on an equal footing.

The issue in summary is that the big telecos are aiming to rate limit packet traffic across the entire wireless spectrum. That means that no matter what kind of data you send (text or media based), there could very well be a toll. Those that pay the highest access fees will see their data travel at the maximum throughput rates. Those who can’t pay as much, will in effect have their data throttled.

As I state at the beginning of a previous article on this issue:

If you design websites, run a small web-based business, make money from blogging, or are launching a startup, the level playing field of the Internet is about to get very bumpy. If you think that mobile-based services are the future and are catering to the wireless crowd, then be prepared for a game-changing shift.

There is a potentially game-changing new variable being considered that will skew the Internet’s competitive landscape. Currently, content creators pay fees to host their data, maybe even overage fees if bandwidth limits are exceeded in a given month. But once the data leaves the confines of their Web server, it travels across the Internet’s backbone infrastructure at the same rate as all other traffic.

The Google-Verizon proposal would allow an altogether new fee to be charged for wireless throughput—an access fee, a toll placed on data after it leaves your hosting firm’s building, or your company-owned server farm. This means that content providers–bloggers, ecommerce sites, social networks, you name it–will all be assessed wireless transmission fees. The higher the fee paid, the faster their data will be allowed to travel.

Why is this an issue? Because healthy competition requires a level playing field. Without net neutrality across the Internet’s entire infrastructure, users looking to join new niche social networks or who frequent boutique ecommerce sites may very well bypass those sites that appear to run very slowly on their wireless devices. They may instead move toward those sites that have a fast wireless response time.

It is not realistic to think that an unfunded startup, a new BuddyPress-based site, or a small blog-based ecommerce site would be able to afford paying the same fees as big companies. That would mean that their data would not travel as fast across the wireless infrastructure.

How many Web surfers want to waste their time waiting for what appears to be a slow server response? In fact, it may not be the server at all. Instead, it could be the speed limit placed on the data packets after they leave the Web server.

Think of it this way. When a WordPress Multisite install runs on a heavily-trafficked shared server, it can be painfully slow to use. Site owners who have configured their network this way often report that their members are complaining about how slow the site is to use, that new user registration is down as a result of the poor load times. The solution often suggested is to enable caching and upgrade to a VPN or to a dedicated server.

But guess what. That solution will not help if wireless packet traffic is rate limited. You could have the biggest server farm in the world with the fastest processors, maxed out memory, efficiently cached and compressed data, and best switches. But if you are not willing, or able, to pay the fees required to let your data travel unencumbered across the wireless infrastructure, then your users may have the same experience as if your site was on a shared host. Your users will not care why your site runs slowly. They may jump ship and spend their time on those sites that run at the speeds they have become accustomed to before net neutrality went out the window.

It is true that the total, theoretical wireless capacity is not nearly as high as that of the current wired-based infrastructure. But let’s remember that the wireless spectrum is not privately owned. It is leased from the public. There must be realistic limits placed on what private corporations can do with public assets. Allowing telecos to leverage their leases in such a way that condones economic inequality does not seem like a move in the public’s best interest.

Finally, we must remember that the wireless carriers already charge for data access. They just do it on the receiving end via subscriber fees and limits put on total bandwidth usage per month. What they want to do now is charge an additional toll to the content creators. So they’ll get paid by both parties, they’ll charge a toll on both ends of the wireless highway.

If it Costs Users, it Could Cost You

Guess to whom these costs will be passed? Why do you think that Facebook, eBay, and Amazon have all recently communicated their disapproval with Google, Verizon, and AT&T on this issue? Although these three behemoths could all afford to pay the highest access fees that the telecos may charge, they know that these costs would have to be passed back to their customers. They also realize that it sets a dangerous precedent—that of assigning data packet priority based on transmission fees paid.

If you don’t think that this issue might negatively impact your business, think again. Although this is currently a potential threat, it is a serious threat nonetheless. If the very people who create the content, consult for the content creators, and run the small ecommerce sites do not speak up, then the FCC and elected officials may not take as much interest in this issue as they should.

So, if you make your living as a blogger, by catering to the blogging community, or working for a social media design or marketing company, it’s time that you stir the pot and write your own post, contact your elected officials, or band together with some of your colleagues to shine light on this important issue. It does not matter if you are not based in the United States. This issue may affect your bottom line where ever you live.

Related Articles

Google-Verizon Joint Statement Presages End to Net Neutrality

Goodbye Google Old Friend: It’s time for the Open-Source Internet

Updates

December 21, 2010: Today the FCC voted on net neutrality regulation. The results do not bode well. See, Why everyone hates new net neutrality rules—even NN supporters.

November 4, 2010: With the U.S. midterm elections finally over, the possibilities for protecting net neutrality seem even worse. Read this CNNMoney article, Final nail in coffin for Net neutrality?

November 29, 2010: In a related development, Comcast is striking a blow against net neutrality for the wired Internet, requiring Level 3 Communications–a major fiber-based backbone provider–to pay them a recurring fee to transmit high-bandwidth content to Comcast’s customers.

November 30, 2010: Tell the FCC what you think by standing up for net neutrality. Sign the petition to stop Comcast from blocking Netflix IP traffic.

Article Comments

  1. masonjames says:

    This is the most clear & concise article I’ve read on the topic. Thanks for posting! Did you see that people are now gathering in protest outside of google’s offices in CA?

    Apparently others are seeing the same things as you and acting on it.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-10961776

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      Thanks for the compliment. I had not seen any reports on protests outside of Google’s corporate campus. It does not surprise me.

      What does surprise me, though, is that none of the well-known open source and Internet rights advocates that Google hired are speaking out about this issue. Before they were hired by Google, they would always be the most vocal about such issues. Now, they are mute. I guess they value their stock options more than their old values. Of course, they might simply be scared of being fired for speaking up against their employer.

  2. hnla says:

    Net Neutrality has been under threat for a while it seems. I remember a while back that a UK based ISP proposed the shaping and controlling of their clients access to the internet through their gateway I think at the time it was met by howls of derision and hopefully a hit on their stock price, I believe there was a hasty retraction of the statement couched in terms of ” we didn’t mean direct our clients access..”

    What has constantly surprised me is the utter lack of understanding whenever I raise the subject of Net Neutrality especially amongst that breed of web entrepreneur who sadly thinks that unless Google are involved it aint internet, it’s these people I find dangerous and ultimately will, unwittingly, help to bring about the demise of Neutral Net.

    Sadly I think it’s somewhat of an inevitability and have thought so for a while.

  3. cbemerine says:

    A great article, I can not believe it is already happening, but probably should not be surprised.

    While it will not help Cellular users, WiFi users connected to the Internet, through landlines (not the Cellular carrier’s network) should be able to bypass these issues in a number of ways. If true, it would make this a Cellular-Wifi specific issue.

    While a bit radical for many, a sure fire way to avoid these types of customer no service business practices is to choose not to play!

    Dump Cellular and go WiFi+VoIP and WiFi+Fiber/Cable/DSL (landline) instead. Might not always be convenient, but prevents your bank account from being robbed.

    Granted we should have net neutrality regardless of our path to/from the Internet. Obviously some providers do not see it that way, do they.

    Remember what has happened since 1996, their lobbyists are very effective and will most likely be too much for our greedy elected officials. Can you say Citizen’s United vs the FEC, I knew you could. (And greed hits all parties, some worse than others…Remember the Senate vote (not to take a vote) on the legislation that would have required all corporations to declare 100% of their campaign contributions, 98% of Repbulicans, 40% of Democrats, probably most of the Libertarians prevented that vote from happening by using the Senate rules to filibuster to prevent the vote. Since the Tea Party is backed by these same corporate interests, do not look for a solution there)

    It was reported that this industry spent $1.5 Million per week lobbying our elected officials prior to that supreme court case, expect this number to go higher in the future. Ask yourself if the person you are voting for will stand up to corporations and not take their money….

    Should the only choice be to, not to play…

    It should not be a problem to create your own WiFi network at home and at work and use it as your preferred WiFi path, avoiding the cellular towers and their method of rating your packets completely. The only catch at that point will be living in a community with bi-directional synchronous Fiber To The Home (FTTH) as there is no incentive to restrict usage as there is with outdated infrastructures like Cellular, Cable and Telephone Lines. Here is a map showing almost 30 potential communities you could relocate your business to today http://sn.im/1axal4

    http://sn.im/1axal4 ~ Google Map showing communities with Fiber To The Home (FTTH) connections to the Internet in the USA, less than 30 and counting.

    In these communities they have bi-directional synchronous bandwidth without limits, throttling, QoS issues, etc… Some, hopefully all will let an individual run their own personal cloud server, a huge plus.

    Obviously both businesses and residents in these communities would be able to completely dump cellular and switch to a non-Cellular WiFi model more effectively.

    As to handsets, there have been Linux (root enabled, thus smart) handsets available since before 2006, so this is not new technology. Since their intentions are obvious, all consumers need to stop purchasing handsets (so called smartphones) that limit your ability to install software you need and configure it to work for you.

    No Root/Admin Access = Dump Device. It just is not smart and never will be, don’t buy it!

  4. […] Africa a huge number of people have access to the Internet solely via mobile phones. Moreover, as Jeff Sayre elaborates, it would allow an altogether new fee to be charged for wireless throughput. This means that […]

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