The Internet has long been believed to be a place for everyone, with equal access to all data and streaming content. Unless there’s some sort of Net neutrality principle placed at the forefront of the new debate, however, the Internet could become a Web of the “haves” and “have-nots.”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Tom Wheeler, proposed a pay system for the Internet last month that would allow companies to pay for excellent streaming quality. Companies such as Netflix and Skype that could pay more money would be able to have better streaming experiences than companies that couldn’t pay the same amount. Wheeler’s idea seems to be an excellent one for companies who have more money, but it would limit the opportunities for small businesses to have excellent streaming quality on their sites. In other words, Wheeler’s new proposal would live by the old proverbial saying, “You get what you pay for.”
100 tech companies weren’t pleased with Wheeler’s recent proposal, saying that it would only lead to division of the Internet as we know it. Netflix and Skype are already popular enough, and to give these sites (and other high-paying ones) a better content experience will only lead to additional customer growth. The average customer will likely take his or her business to a site such as Netflix, with its growing movie base and excellent quality. As for some other small site he or she watches regularly, a reduced streaming quality may move the individual to abandon the old site and stick with Netflix.
The high-definition streaming experience would put small companies at a disadvantage for two reasons: (1) these companies can’t afford to pay for the desired streaming quality, and (2) they would then be unable to attract customers because of their internet streaming quality. Losing money and customer base, the larger tech companies would win without breaking a sweat. For these smaller companies, then, this new “money” law would remove Internet competition – something that has always been central to how the World Wide Web functions in American democracy.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has decided, at the urging of these tech companies in particular, to add some sort of protection clause to the new Net neutrality rule that protects small businesses from being given terrible streaming quality as a “punishment” for their inability to pay for better internet streaming. Something tells me, however, that this protection clause will only operate if the FCC can determine that some carrier is delivering a terrible streaming quality intentionally. Unfortunately, proving intent is something that can rarely be done. I think it’s a nice gesture, but I don’t know if this will do much (if anything at all) to help the more budget-friendly sites on the Web. At the end of the day, the “Benjamins” will speak louder than any principle – even if it’s established in the name of Net neutrality.