Net Neutrality

The world is often positioned as being made up of the haves and the have nots.  Those that have the power, money or influence to accomplish something versus those that lack those things.  The Goliaths and the Davids.  Health care is one of those things: in Alberta there is staunch opposition to those with power-money-influence getting better or faster treatment. Apparently in the US (and by extension here in Canada) the Internet is another.  Somewhere along the line, the right to equitable distribution of internet bandwidth has become unassailable. The issue is whether two-tiered systems are bad.  I’m of two minds.

On the one hand, to allow for Goliath to hold a government sanctioned monopoly on stones thereby depriving David of the only tool he had to disrupt an industry, seems categorically wrong.  The issue at hand with Net Neutrality is whether internet providers should be able to charge a customer more to deliver their content in a faster, more-reliable or more secure way. Essentially create a two-tier internet where those that can pay get more favourable routes through the tubes than those that don’t.  The argument goes that startups or the like that would use the equality of the internet to reach customers to disrupt an industry would be hamstrung by their inability to pay for the same rate of content delivery that their larger competitors could. Again, a government sanctioned monopoly on a delivery channel: it seems unfair.

On the other hand, when the internet was commercialized a number of vendors stepped up, invested billions in infrastructure and research to allow the internet to develop into what it is today.  The fact that internet connections are ubiquitous says a lot for the investment made by some of these companies.  For the government to say that they can’t do with that infrastructure what they will seems wrong too.  The fact that they act like monopolies, talk like monopolies and want justification to deepen their monopolies, however, seems like the very thing that the current state, a neutral net, was designed to prevent.  But how does a private for-profit company deal with the fact that the very core of the service they sell has become, in the consumer’s eye, an essential service.  A right, rather than a privilege.  Despite all that those vendors have done to build the internet into what it is today (and take that with a large grain of salt), the government can currently tell those companies what they can and cannot do with their stuff: it seems unfair.

At the end of the day, we need to answer the question: what is a right worth protecting and what is a privilege of those that can afford it.  These are very localized questions.  In Canada, I suspect there is stronger support for the right to equitable access to the internet, much like there is to health care.  In the US, I suspect that there is more support for the free market and the privileged few, much like there is to health care.  In the end, I think I fall on the side of maintaining net neutrality since formalized two tiered systems don’t end well.  But I don’t think I’d ever bet on the startups failing to disrupt the big guys.  That’s the thing about ingenuity, it sees these problems as challenges to be overcome in the name of profit.


Jon Holt

A coach, an entrepreneur, and a no-bull advisor in growing small businesses through the use of practical strategy, light-weight governance and sitting back and thinking about running your business, regardless of what you do.

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