Thursday, December 14, 2017

What is net neutrality, and why should you care?

Imagine you're going to try that great new restaurant on Elm Street tonight. You hop in your car and drive there, and have a great meal. Although the restaurant is new, business is booming. They're already talking about expanding, adding more jobs.
That's net neutrality.
Let's take net neutrality away:
You get in your car to go to the restaurant. As you turn onto Main Street heading towards Elm, you come to a gate. The man at the gate stops you.
"Sorry sir, you're not permitted to drive on Main Street."
"Why not?"
"Main Street is not included in your monthly driving package."
"Well, how much is it for me to add Main Street?"
"We don't sell just Main Street access. You have to buy the Downtown Bundle for $39.95/month."
"How am I supposed to get to Elm Street?"
"You'll have to go around by the lake."
"But that will take three times as long!"
"Yeah, that's why most people buy the Downtown Bundle."
"Can I take the highway?"
"Which driving package provider to you have?"
"Oh, sorry. Highway access is restricted to people who use Vroom."
You decide to go the long way, and finally get to the restaurant. It's great. But it's not very busy. It's too much of a hassle to get to.
A month later, you're at a dinner party. You see some old friends.
"Hey, have you guys tried the new place on Elm Street? The food is amazing."
"Well, we wanted to go, but I heard it closed down."
"Really? What happened?"
"Apparently the big corporate chain restaurant on Main Street was losing business to the new place, so they made a deal with the road company and had Elm Street closed down completely. Nobody could get to the new place, and even though their food was way better than anywhere else, they just couldn't stay in business."
"Oh man, that sucks."
That's what could lie ahead without net neutrality. Want Netflix? That'll cost extra. Want Facebook? You have to pay for a bundle that includes Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and MySpace. (MySpace? Is that even still a thing? Doesn't matter, you have to pay for it anyway.) Want to use gMail? You can't. You have to use your ISP's email system. Got a great idea for a startup? Good luck, because in addition to building a great service, you're also going to have to negotiate a deal with your ISP, and all of the already established big players you might compete with will have way more bargaining power than you.
Fortunately, in Canada we still value net neutrality. But so much of our internet traffic originates in or passes through the US, it is inevitable that we'll feel the effects of their decision here too.
Let's hope wiser heads prevail, and net neutrality rules are reinstated, before the internet as we know it is wrecked.

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