How the Death of Net Neutrality Effects You
By Jeff Sayre
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.
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.