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3 million reasons you should care about Net Neutrality

Submitted by on Wednesday, 2 February 2011 No Comment

Net Neutrality. Are you asleep yet?

You’re not alone if the mere mention of the words makes you drowsy. A lot of people don’t even understand what it is, including a conservative blogger I ran across recently who called it an issue that liberals should be deeply concerned about, too. If the government succeeds in making the Net neutral, no one will be able to express an opinion, he wrote.

The good news is, we all should still be able to express opinions. We simply won’t be able to enjoy the broadband services that some of us do today at the same price if service providers are able to convince the powers that be that Net Neutrality would kill innovation and stifle the economy. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

In a nutshell, Net Neutrality is the notion that all Web traffic should be treated the same, whether you’re emailing Aunt Martha, uploading pictures to Facebook or watching a Netflix movie. The theory is Internet service providers should not be able to charge more for one type of traffic than they do for others. Opponents to Net Neutrality say regulation isn’t needed, because the current system works just fine.

Want to bet on how long that lasts? If it indeed exists anyway. Just ask gamers whose ISP have throttled – slowed service – them for being online too much.

This week, Consumerist put together the link. Time Warner Cable lost more than 100,000 subscribers of premium channels such as HBO and Cinemax in the last quarter of 2010, while Netflix gained 3 million subscribers. Meanwhile, an analyst told Home Media Magazine that the recent NBC-Comcast merger would result in cable costs escalating faster than they have been – and they already have more than doubled since 1995.

It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Time Warner – or any other cable provider that for years has ignored customers who complain about being forced to pay for programming that they don’t want. “Fifty-seven channels and nothing on?” That’s a quaint notion these days. Try hundreds of channels and not a thing you want to watch.

Now that there are alternatives – Netflix, Hulu and more – that allows customers to pay less and get what they want, when they want it, cable providers are suffering the consequences of decades of arrogance. And everyone wants a piece of the new action.

That explains why companies such as Verizon and MetroPCS are fighting Net Neutrality. Those companies don’t have much at stake if old-school cable providers drop off the face of the Earth, but they do have a lot to gain if they’re allowed to charge more for certain types of Net traffic.

The old-school cable providers, meanwhile, also have their fingers in the Internet service provider pie. Time Warner. Comcast. Charter. They’re all selling cable channels while also providing broadband.

So guess what’s going to happen now that revenue from one category is threatened? Charging more for broadband seems to be the obvious answer, especially for companies with stakes in both services. Other broadband providers will be eager to follow along.

Still think we don’t need rules that ban providers from blocking certain types of Internet traffic? Netflix’s fourth-quarter growth provides 3 million reasons why we do, and why the rules need to be stronger than the watered-down proposal that providers already are fighting with lawsuits from sea to shining sea.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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