November 23, 2017

On Net Neutrality and the future of the Internet

By now, the majority of you reading this have probably heard that the FCC is preparing to roll back Obama-era Net Neutrality protections that have been in place since 2015. These protections safeguard the internet in more ways than one, but in a nutshell bars the practice of blocking or slowing down access to content, or charging consumers for access to content.

To repeal these regulations would open the floodgates for companies to self-regulate the content that they deliver to you, thereby limiting what you see and consume via the internet. Our internet has been built on the premise of neutral delivery of content to all parties, good and bad, paid and free, and to segregate and prioritise content goes against everything we’ve come to expect from the internet.1

There is an argument to be made here that companies will "do the right thing" and safeguard our internet access fairly, but if anything, but history has shown otherwise — that companies will do anything to preserve themselves and their profits, to the detriment of the consumer, from
cutting off subscriber access to pro-union websites during a dispute
, to covering up a hack affecting 57M Uber riders, to exposing only a subset of the internet under the guise of "free internet". Why should you let these companies dictate what you see and read online? It makes no sense at all.

If you’re not familiar with Net Neutrality, John Oliver has an informative (if a little inflammatory) segment on what it is and just how it will affect all of us:

What might the internet look like should we forego Net Neutrality?

A picture says a thousand words:

What about zero rating?

Zero-rating is the practise of classifying certain types of data and eliminating (or "zeroing out") the charges associated with them. For example, if I were to use 1 gigabyte out of my 3 GB phone data plan surfing Facebook2, my mobile carrier would only record 2GB of data usage, freeing me up to surf more.

It’s a nice bonus, and if you do not look too closely at it, you would not see that it is also a violation of Net Neutrality marketed cleverly. If the data used to access one website (in this example, Facebook) were zero-rated, then why should other websites be treated so unfairly as to be charged for their usage?

Doing nothing is tantamount to agreeing to these practices. Zero rating is a violation of Net Neutrality, and you shouldn’t stand for this either.

Why are you posting about this?

I’m writing this blog post because a repeal of these Net Neutrality protections could potentially affect NodeBB as well as the continued running of other businesses, and this impacts everybody.

Were preferential treatment given to incumbent companies, there would be no pressure to innovate, simply because any and all competition would be priced out of the market.

Were an ISP to come to me and offer preferential routing to NodeBB and our hosted servers (not that they even would), there’s no way we’d be able to afford something like this, much less do the same with all ISPs USA-wide. Net Neutrality ensures that all who wish to use NodeBB can use it unfettered and unthrottled.

I take the time to comment on this simply because the news of the FCC and Net Neutrality in the United States affects me as a Canadian. Not only do we have clients in the United States, but a very large portion of our day-to-day web services route through the United States. "Fast lanes" sound nice, but it also means if you cannot afford it, you’re in the "slow lane". I’d prefer it if all lanes were equal. This is the central premise of net neutrality.

What can we do?

Educate yourselves, educate your congressional representative, educate your peers. Be more than an armchair activist, do more than upvote and click like.

The worst thing you can do is nothing at all, because it signifies implicit acceptance of change. For better or for worse.


1 I am specifically refraining from utilising the slippery slope argument, because I want to stay on-topic. I could go on and on about how repealing NN protections equals erosion of privacy, but that would be another opinion piece altogether…
2 Which you totally shouldn’t do, that’s a lot of Facebook.

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