Today we're going to talk about Net Neutrality.
It's a concept that affects the game industry deeply
and yet it's often reduced to a vague term
thrown around by people to defend or attack
a dozen different concepts.
So what does Net Neutrality mean?
In the broadest sense, it simply means
internet service providers can't discriminate
in how they allocate bandwidth to sites.
For example, right now,
how fast you can access content is limited
by the location and capacity
of the content provider's servers,
because we functionally exist
in a net-neutral environment.
But if you took away Net Neutrality,
internet service providers could slow
your service to a crawl for sites like
Sites that require vast amounts of streaming data
and so, in effect, cost the ISP more.
Now, this if often raised as a civil liberties concern,
It's often brought up that in a world
where we do away with Net Neutrality
it would be very easy to restrict access to content
that the government or major corporations
don't want you to have access to.
And while I will fight every day to retain what liberties
we still have,
I'm actually not sure that's where
the real threat comes here.
I think it comes in a much more banal insipid form:
In a non-net neutral environment,
it makes no sense for internet service providers
not to basically charge a toll for access to content.
You want to watch Youtube videos
at a better speed than a 56k modem?
Well that's going to be five extra dollars a month
for the special Youtube package.
You want to play World of Warcraft?
Well, now in addition to paying 15 dollars to Blizzard,
you also better pay an extra 10 bucks a month
to Comcast to not restrict your bandwidth.
And what about competition?
I mean, NBC is owned by Comcast.
NBC competes with services like Netflix
and Amazon Instant Video.
Why wouldn't they make access to those sites
laggy and cumbersome while giving
full blazing bandwidth to their own products?
Or, in terms of games, vivendi still owns
millions of dollars worth of Activision Blizzard stock,
and various ISPs around the world.
Why wouldn't they make World of Warcraft easy to play,
and Guild Wars slow and laggy?
But why talk about this now?
Well, until recently, Net Neutrality in the United States
was guarded by the FCC
But in January, a circuit court ruled
that this was not part of the
Federal Communications Commission's jurisdiction
and, since we have no laws in place
addressing Net Neutrality, this sort of opened
the flood gates on the issue.
For a while, there was some question as to exactly
what effect this ruling would have,
but, in the last few months, we've already seen
companies like AT&T file patents
for bandwidth discrimination technology.
For a gaming world which is ever more dependent on
high-speed access and unrestricted bandwidth usage,
this sort of thing means higher cost for less service.
If you'd like to keep getting a megabyte or more
a second while downloading a steam game,
you can bet that's gonna be a premium.
More still, what's to keep companies from making deals
with the ISP directly?
What if Valve pays your ISP to limit your access
to Good Old Games?
Sound ridiculous? Maybe so in that case,
but Sony or Microsoft paying your ISP
to restrict access to the other's network?
EA paying to slow down everyone's access to Steam
in order to make Origin more appealing?
Alright, you get the idea.
The internet as we know it was
built around the idea that
content would live or die
based around the competition between services offered,
which led to the rough and tumble
rapidly evolving Web we know today.
But imagine if MySpace could've paid
to limit access to Facebook,
or Encyclopedia Britannica could've put in money
to slow Wikipedia use to a crawl.
While many opponents of Net Neutrality say that it goes against
the free markets to mandate a net-neutral environment,
truth be told, as far as I can tell,
a non-net neutral Web is one that stifles competition,
and encourages stagnation.
It entrenches existing corporations,
rather than forcing them to actually compete
on the value of their services.
Now, we at Extra Credits usually try to understand
the argument from both sides of an issue,
but, no matter how much digging
we've done on this one
we can't really find a compelling argument
for eliminating Net Neutrality.
The vast majority of the proponents of this idea
seem to be ISPs or people working
fairly directly with them.
The best counter argument to a net-neutral environment
that I've heard is the suggestion
that the free market compensates
for a non-net neutral environment,
by allowing you to change ISPs
if the one you're with right now limits your
access in ways you don't like.
And a non-net neutral environment
will provide ISPs savings that they can then use
to provide you with better service
for the content you do want.
But, I don't know how it is where you live,
but I don't have a lot of options as far as ISPs go
if I want high speed service where I live.
Shopping around for the best service
isn't really possible.
The only really strong argument I've heard
against legislating Net Neutrality
is that making Net Neutrality law
might be too restrictive.
There actually is stuff that the ISPs
already filter access to
that's probably beneficial to all of us:
Spam bots, potential threats, et cetera,
and the argument goes, that any law you put in place
wouldn't be flexible enough to adjust to the
ever changing environment of the Internet.
This is why allowing the FCC to maintain a policy
of Net Neutrality while reviewing things
on a case by case basis
seems like an eminently workable system to me,
but if we can't have that, there are countries
who have mandated forms of Net Neutrality,
such as Chile, Japan, and the Netherlands,
without stopping ISPs from doing some
So if legislators would work with
experts in the area, I'm sure we could find a solution.
But, whatever side of this you fall on,
it's being decided now.
Right now, here in America.
This is something that
will affect how we use the Internet,
and how we game for decades to come.
How we act here, what we say and where we stand
will determine whether future generations
get to experience the net-neutral Web
we've grown up with.
We are very much pro-Net Neutrality on E.C.,
but we believe in democracy even more,
so whatever your beliefs on how the Internet
should evolve, we encourage you
to contact your representative about it.
We've put a link down below
that will easily allow you to find out who represents you
in the House and the Senate if you live in the U.S.
so you can reach out to them.
I'll see you next week.