Words Have Meanings: Net Neutrality

Over the past couple of months, residents of the US have seen vast regressions in the terms of data and privacy. The term “net neutrality” has been on everyone’s lips, including major data-focused companies such as internet service providers. Such companies have come out heavily in favor of keeping net neutrality regulations. These appear to be somewhat altruistic and self-sacrificing stances, considering that these businesses survive on the deregulation of data. Is it possible that these companies rely do stand for the best interests of their customers rather than the best interests of their industries?

The answer is: yes and no.

Realize that only a few years ago, many telecom businesses invested in and lobbied hard for the institution of policies that would have deregulated their ability to alter their internet speeds based on what a customer was using their internet connection for. AT&T and Verizon threw large sums of money at this, and T-Mobile bragged about its data-throttling policies. If an internet provider wanted customers to stream movies on its own service rather than a competitor (say Netflix or Sling TV), it would simply decrease the speed and quality of a customer’s data whenever they tried to connect to that competitor’s services.

Today, these companies and other ISPs, such as Comcast, promise not to do that, honest. They’re big proponents of net neutrality, they say. But the definition of “net neutrality” they follow merely applies to throttling speeds—they are pledging not to decrease speeds on competing services. What they are not promising is not to promote and increase speeds for their own services, such as AT&T’s DirecTV Now. This is still harmful to the industry, creating barriers to entry to telecom startups who are still trying to create footholds for their competitive services. In such a climate, startups would have to curry favor with the big names so that their services can be on par, and that just is not something that happens for businesses that intend to disrupt the industry, like Sling TV.

Language is important. Words have meanings. Net neutrality should be exactly what the name says: neutral. Not negative as with throttling, and also not destructive in the reverse.

Don’t let the shallow promises of Big Data lull you into a sense of false security. The internet is still at risk.

(Originally published July 2017)