Net neutrality opponents make little sense

One of the principal arguments against net neutrality regulations is that there are some websites that simply cause too much traffic to providers’ networks, so therefore, these websites should pay more than other companies to have their data carried over the network.

In addition, if the networks don’t get this extra money from the data-heavy websites, this “would prevent broadband networks from being built, which would limit available bandwidth and thus endanger innovation”.

Pure crap!

Imagine if a company, let’s call it United Roads, owned all the roads of a country, and charged people to drive on them. This company observes that when people shop at a place like 7-Eleven they usually buy very few items, and thus carry very little cargo in their cars, and when people shop at Costco, they usually buy a large number of large items, and thus carry a very large cargo. The heavier your cargo, the more demanding it is on the road infrastructure, since it leads to more frequent repairs, which are costly.

So, United Roads proposes to charge Costco, and other stores from which people buy many and/or large items, a lot of money in order to allow customers to carry Costco merchandise in their cars while driving on this company’s nationwide network of roads. If Costco doesn’t pay up, United Roads will slow down cars carrying Costco merchandise, or even bar them from travelling on the road network.

Meanwhile people who shop primarily at Costco pay the same monthly service to United Roads as people who shop primarily at 7-Eleven.

The above situation is clearly insane. It makes much more sense to simply charge the drivers who are “cargo hogs”, i.e. shop primarily at Costco, much more than drivers who carry much less cargo per month on United Roads’ network.

The drivers are the ones using the network to carry cargo from the store to their home, so they are the ones who should pay United Roads for the use of the roads. The stores themselves are just sources of cargo. Blackmailing the stores that, unless they pay up, customers carrying their cargo will be slowed down seems like an ill-conceived idea on many levels.

A similar thing applies to internet usage. If some people are using Youtube or Dropbox so much that they are hogging up the bandwidth, just charge them more per month. Why are the websites even being considered?

Internet users are the ones using the network to carry bits from the website to their home, so they are the ones who should pay their ISP for the use of the network. The websites themselves are just sources of bits. Blackmailing the websites  that, unless they pay up, customers downloading their content will be slowed down seems like an ill-conceived idea on many levels.

The extra money to invest in future network improvements to be able to carry more and more bandwidth should come from the consumers who use it the most. Complaining that, unless ISPs get money from Youtube, Google, etc, they will have no money to build next-generation networks is disingenuous.

Of course, if both approaches to raising this money (charge the websites vs charge the consumers) work for the ISPs, from a practical point of view one may ask why favor one approach vs the other? The answer is that if we go the route of having the websites pay, that means that only big companies with deep pockets will be able to pay the added fee that is required to provide consumers a data-rich service. This limits innovation, since it’s much less likely that a small startup can start competing in any field that provides a data-rich service to the consumer.

So, overall, charging websites and not users for high bandwidth usage is not only absurd, it is ultimately bad for consumers.

Originally posted January 8, 2012

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