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Be Wary Of Net Neutrality’s Unintended Consequences

November 30, 2011

There is no doubt that net neutrality – the guarantee that internet service providers will not restrict access to any part of the internet, thereby providing the same internet to everyone – is something to be revered. Yet, is a government regulation the best way to make it happen and should we be wary of the unintended consequences? A few dissenting opinions warrant a place in the neutrality discussion.

Johna Till Johnson of NetworkWorld.com, writes in 2009 that net neutrality regulation would likely cause prices to jump and innovation to halt. The argument goes that the internet is in a transitional period, as consumers demand more and higher-quality video streaming, faster download speeds and other features, the need for bandwidth grows exponentially. Increasing bandwidth costs money, so providers like Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon have invested heavily in upgrading the internet’s infrastructure, bringing technology like fiber optics to private homes. To pay for these upgrades the companies would need to charge more to consumers who use the new technology. Net neutrality legislation, however, bans companies from charging certain customers more; the result is internet providers will have to charge per bit of data downloaded.

Per bit charge would work like utility “metering,” where consumers are charged based on the amount of the product consumed instead of paying a flat fee. In Johnson’s scenario, providers, in order to track the bit usage, would need to isolate their customers by ceasing to allow access to other provider’s networks. For example, currently Comcast is connected to Verizon, AT&T and other networks around the world, meaning that a website need only pay to be on one network because any user can access it. This practice, called peering, would disappear with a metered pay system, meaning only a rich institution could afford to be on all the networks and be accessed by any user. Ironically, this causes the scenario net neutrality attempts to prevent.

Phil Harvey, editor-in-chief of Light Reading, which covers the telecom industry, provides a similar alternative. He argued that there should be “light” government regulation combined with the metered pay system. He said the government could force internet providers to be transparent while allowing customers to choose a company that provides the best service.

This argument fails to consider the changes to force multiple companies to provide internet to the same area, which most anyone can attest is not how the system works now. Consumers would be forced to stay with a company that was charging more to access certain sites. In short, if a metered system went into effect, the consequences for consumers would be bad.

Whether these particular scenario occurs is only a possibility, but it proves that one must be diligent before jumping in with net neutrality.

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