Battle of the Bandwidth

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The internet, like all things, is made of confetti.

Net neutrality lives to fight another day. For now. Dun dun dun.

 

Net neutrality is a big deal. If you’re a casual at home user, you may not think as much for now, but when access to your favorite sites gets slowed down because internet providers aren’t getting their palms greased by the right names and figures, you’ll change your mind pretty quickly. To the outsider, net neutrality looks like a battle between sensible internet companies and “big data” downloaders. It’s not, and it never has been.

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(Corporate profile picture of Comcast president Butterscotch Baby the Third.)

 

Fortunately, the fight’s not even close to being over, and the world just scored another win. Although net neutrality did pass, ISPs have been attempting to overturn it ever since, and don’t seem to be letting up any time soon. They’re exhausting every possible avenue. Why? Because of course they are, they’re the victims here of greedy downloaders!

Instead, this is a fight to control the future of the internet. Anyone who used the net back in the days of dial up connections knows that not only is the internet faster than it’s ever been, but the size of your average page is massive compared to what it was. Even mobile content, which has been optimized to load quickly over a 3G or 4G connection, would take several minutes to download over a dial up modem. We’re talking anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.

(Friendly reminder: a video of someone using the internet at 14.4 kbps.)

In 2016, these speeds are obviously laughable, but in 1995, they might have been acceptable for some users. Earlier than that, and dial up was just the standard connection. The web was optimized for it. To download files that were several megabytes, users had to rely on primitive P2P software like Kazaa, Napster, or AudioGalaxy. Those were strange days for everyone, but hey, the technology worked.

Money, Money, Money!

Fast forward to now, and what we’re looking at is a situation where the big companies want to actively slow down how much a user can download, both in terms of bandwidth and file size, but for what purpose precisely? Even the executives of the industry admit that there’s no functional benefit for implementing data caps. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that’s been paying attention.

Net neutrality is another, very poorly disguised, way for these companies to make more money. By limiting the speed of the internet to unwashed and unpartnered websites, ISPs can effectively double dip by charging those content providers in the same way that they charge television networks currently to carry their content and their ads. At the same time, it allows them to choke traffic to Netflix, or really anyone they choose. That’s just the unmitigated greedy asshole factor.

The political factor could come at a point when the ISPs choose to slow, choke, or otherwise totally block access to politically controversial content, claiming that there are speed issues to consider, that they need to protect the precious bandwidth of their users. That’s when things get very, very dicey.

At the technological development end, the effort against net neutrality is also a clear anti-piracy measure, and while it may (but may not) curb piracy as we know it, it will almost certainly hurt development of new web properties, new online tech, and new companies that are in the media game. Moving forward it could easily put an unnecessary blockade up in front of downloadables like 3D printer templates, just as an example.

Full speed ahead.

The ISP coalition aligned against net neutrality plans to appeal the ruling. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the real question is how net neutrality will look once the actual methods of delivery have changed. The current battle over net neutrality relates to desktop connections primarily, with wires bringing you cable, fiber optic, or whichever flavor you prefer to call it. Satellite connections and cell connections, meanwhile, are already effectively capped and metered in the way ISPs would prefer, and as far as I’m aware, will be the same going forward. At least from those providers.

Companies like Google want to get into the game with their own satellite internet network, but that’s primarily aimed at providing the internet to remote areas of the world that have no access. As long as we’re reliant on the big ISPs, the future may look fairly grim once a new standard of home connection is rolled out. The current FCC regulations may not cover it, and the plans and policies that these ISPs already have in place could just mean that the ultimate destruction of net neutrality is inevitable.

(Actual footage of our political champions dealing with net neutrality.)

On the other hand, I think history has proven that out of touch executives can’t keep up with the technology, no matter how hard they try to pass the legislation to do so. If they could legalese their way out of these problems, piracy wouldn’t exist. So as long as the Pirate Bay exists in some form, we’re fairly safe. Love it or hate it, it’s the canary in the coal mine of the internet’s free use by its users. It’s the prey of automated search culling, attempts to throttle bandwidth, and even legal action taken against the developers that make it easier for everyday users.

That includes internet information leakers from private and public sectors, technology that could undercut the profits of other companies in control of the ISP’s filters and chokepoints, and more than we realize. Imagine if the pharmaceutical game could get into regulating how information is shared on the development of medical tech between different parts of the world.

So keep paying attention to the news about net neutrality. The fight won’t be over any time soon, and it actually will have an impact on your everyday life if you’re someone that uses the internet at all.  At the very least you’ll be using this precious bandwidth that the ISPs keep trying to say is more precious than breathable air, and that alone means you’re getting your free lunch, right?