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Berginski: What net neutrality’s really about

By Staff | Dec 11, 2014

As someone who uses the Internet a lot – be it for media streaming, playing video games or research for my weekly column – I’ve been wanting to chip into the “net neutrality” debate for some time. Good thing I prefaced with that sentence, because if I prefaced with “Net neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) treat all websites and data the same”, odds are I would’ve lost some people (particularly readers 60 and older). I even bored myself with that sentence, and I’m the guy writing this column.

If someone were to read any recent op-eds on the subject, he or she would assume the net neutrality debate is about whether or not ISPs, cable and phone companies should be allowed to charge websites that receive large shares of Internet traffic more money for continued fast connections and performance (a “fast lane”, if you will) while at the same time charging customers for (supposedly) faster or slower connection speeds. Those in the debate love to point out there are no rules in place to stop ISPs, cable and phone companies from putting websites in fast lanes, and that some companies have slowed down performance and connection speeds for consumers. As bad as that sounds, it’s also a prime example of missing the point. The problem with the net neutrality debate is that the focus is on what ISPs, cable and phone companies should or shouldn’t be allowed to do now, rather than what should be done for more and more people in the future.

Let’s talk about running water for a bit, shall we? We drink it, we wash clothes with it, we bathe in it, we water our plants with it. Years ago, a lot of people didn’t have it in their homes, but today it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t. Infrastructure was needed to get running water from the treatment plant to people’s homes. But what does running water have to do with the Internet? Aside from communication, commerce and disseminating information, it’s the same principal.

As more and more people use the Internet, be it on their computers, smartphones, video game consoles, tablets and other devices wired into it, that will mean the infrastructure delivering it to people’s homes will have to be improved in the future, otherwise it will be sluggish for everyone. The question then becomes, who pays for the infrastructure changes? You? Others who use the Internet? The ISPs, cable and phone companies? (Which would mean those who use the Internet would be paying for it, too, then.) Businesses? Municipal, county, state and federal governments? (Oh I’m sure people would just love having their taxes go up just to have the ability, let alone the option to use the Internet.) Who pays for it? Who?

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