5 reasons why net neutrality is misunderstood

As a piece of regulation, Net Neutrality is governed by the technology itself, its capabilities and architecture. Here are five simple reasons why most people don't quite get it.

net neutrality now
Backbone Campaign (CC BY 2.0)

Net Neutrality is a hot topic these days and I've posted about this many times in the past. From a foundational approach, telecom's long history in the development of a network capable of sending signal from point A to point B has been challenged by the following list. Coincidentally, these are the 5 reasons why Net Neutrality is commonly misunderstood.

1. Mergers and Acquisitions

If a free and open internet were on its way why would there be less and less competition? The Regional Bell Operating Companies were broken up in the past to prevent a monopoly but it seems they’re getting back together.

2. Capitalism

This is a business, not a government institution. In the Enterprise space, companies like Netflix won't run slower than DirecTV on the AT&T network because they're buying Dedicated Access to their network to serve their customers content. These companies aren't using the same internet you use at home, they're in the data center with the carriers and pay a premium to connect directly into the core IP network.

3. Laws of Nature

In order to run cables, these companies had to obtain right of ways. These right of ways were negotiated and cables ran through them many years ago. They picked the best routes available and they’ve been pretty static since then with relatively little exception. 

Originally, electrical signal flowed through copper wire to transmit a phone call. Today, its light moving through glass to transmit data packets. You're governed by the speed of light over the distance it has to travel. It’s all about geography and the laws of physics. For that reason telecom is referred as a natural monopoly.

4. Regulation

Telecommunications is highly regulated and Net Neutrality is only the latest in a over 100 Years of regulation. In the early 1900s there was Anti Trust action about acquiring competitors to limit the power of the monopoly. The technology changed and with that the competitive landscape and need for regulation. Today, the focus is more on security than preventing a monopoly and, with IP, its easier to secure on a single provider network. This is not a partisan issue. This is what regulation looks like as it tiptoes through the sanctity of capitalism to, ironically enough, protect its citizens while allowing freedom of communication.

5. Internet Protocol

Whether you make a phone call, send an email, log in remotely to work, you're sending packets over the internet. They're cut up sent over wires reconfigured and voila, you have Facebook or a Skype chat with your Mom. Many folks have discussed the anonymity of the internet because they don't understand it fundamentally. A website address is the equivalent of a telephone number or a physical address. You request info and they send packets back to your requesting IP address. Browsing history being available from the provider shouldn't surprise anyone. Call details are part of your phone bill so you should expect the same with browsing history. 

Mother Nature is the ultimate decider. Capitalism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. This technology is one of the most impactful and pervasive our world has ever seen. Regulation has shifted from a focus on preventing a monopoly to a concern for our national security.

Net Neutrality was not about a free and open internet nor should it be. What it should be about is still protecting us from the monopoly while ensuring our security on the Internet and expanding its reach to connect the portion of our population that has substandard Internet access.

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