As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I, like everyone else working here, is cheering that we are finally going to get Net Neutrality. The question I have is this: why do Silicon Valley businesses, companies that depend heavily on the internet, care so much about Net Neutrality, and why is Fox News and many vocal republicans, so adamantly against it?
First of all, Net Neutrality has to do with access to the Internet. On one side of the argument are consumers, along with small, medium, and large businesses. On the other side are the four large carriers: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T. What Silicon Valley is cheering for and what informed consumers and businesses want is for all web traffic to be considered equal. While the carries want a multi-tier system.
On the surface, the carrier demand sounds reasonable. Supporting high bandwidth traffic like Netflix is more expensive then supporting low bandwidth traffic like Twitter. The carriers want to charge more depending on the network demand. But what appears on the surface is not the reality. In reality, the carriers want to speed up and slow down traffic based on how much an organization pays.
This level of control gives a company that has a geographic monopoly the legal right to slow down or deny access to individual organizations. They can use this tiered system to act especially egregious when they are negotiating a contract.
From the business and consumer point of view, we already pay for network access, and we pay much more than people in the rest of the world. For example, in Mexico you can get 80 channels and great Internet access for $35 a month. A similar service in Silicon Valley starts at $80 a month.
Netflix, YouTube, Twitter, and your company pay the carriers a lot of money for internet access. What no business wants is the equivalent of a work stoppage when negotiating their next internet access contract, or to find out their competitor paid the carrier more money to slow down their access. Work stoppages like this have already happened.
Last year, while negotiating their contract, Comcast drastically slowed down Netflix’s traffic. In 2013 when negotiating a contract, Time Warner Cable discontinued service to CBS and NBC stations in four cities.
What gets confused on sources like Fox News, is the difference between Net Neutrality and government regulation. Net Neutrality is the what of the issue, while government regulation is the process of insuring that the rules are followed. The carriers have already shown that they can’t be trusted to self-govern. Do you want to be negotiating a contract with a carrier if you know they will drastically shut down your internet traffic unless you agree to their terms?
Realistically, the only way to insure Net Neutrality is to have an oversight group and regulations that assure a third party is watching out for businesses and consumers. Most importantly, what is needed are ongoing rules to measure what's fair to the consumer and to businesses.
Fox News says that any regulation is bad — a heavy handed statement considering the proposed Net Neutrality regulations. This proposal differs from that of a regulated utility since there is no rate or tariff regulation. What Net Neutrality includes is a set of safeguards that make access fair.
The Net Neutrality proposal has been modeled after the 1993 rules for wireless traffic. Rules create certainty. For businesses to prosper and our economy to grow, we need to assure consumer and business rights and privacy over the internet.
So, back to my original statement: why are Silicon Valley companies for Net Neutrality and Fox News and vocal republicans against it? Silicon Valley companies know the importance of Net Neutrality. The web is the blood line of their business and all modern businesses.
I can only come up with two reasons why Fox News is against Net Neutrality. The first reason: they blindly disagree with anything that President Obama supports. The second: any and all regulation is bad. Neither of these arguments involves a rational business decision or creates a positive business climate.