Network Neutrality: who benefits on either side?
There's a lot of rhetoric, idealism, and outright lies about why we need or don't need network neutrality. The political right tends
to frame killing neutrality as "freeing the internet from the shackles of regulation" while the left characterizes enforcing neutrality
as protecting consumers and leveling the playing field.
Let's leave all that aside and just look at who the winners and losers are in each scenario.
In order to do that, first we have to know what exactly Network Neutrality is supposed to do. There's a lot of misunderstanding around
Network neutrality does not:
- Prevent your ISP from imposing usage caps.
- Disallow throttling your entire connection (eg, if you go over your cap)
- Forbid reasonable network management practices (eg traffic shaping)
- Prevent your ISP from charging per-byte or for overages.
Network neutrality does:
- Require that your ISP treat all websites, protocols, and services equally.
- Forbid your ISP from throttling or blocking any given website (eg, Netflix, Crunchyroll, Hulu etc.)
- Further, your ISP may not do this and then demand payment from said site for unfettered access.
- This is called "Double Dipping" and is one of the key points of neutrality.
- Disallow "zero-rating" of any given service or website.
- For example T-Mobile's "BingeOn" zero-rates certain video services so that they do not count against your usage cap
So who benefits from either scenario? In any given internet activity there are four major parties:
- The user (that's you)
- The user's ISP (Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner etc.)
- The service (the website or application you're accessing, eg Netflix or Google)
- The service's ISP
The breakdown of who benefits when is pretty straightforward:
- The user's ISP
- The service's ISP
- The ISPs benefit from a non-neutral net because they can discriminate at will against any service they choose, either by charging for
unfettered access or by zero-rating selected services (for example, their own)
- The service benefits from a neutral net because the ISP (both theirs and the user's) must treat their content fairly. They won't be
shut out because they didn't pay a premium fee to Comcast, or see users driven away because an ISP didn't zero-rate their service.
- Zero-rating is a special and insidious case: it can appear to benefit the user if they use the
zero-rated service, but in fact it drives users away from services that aren't zero-rated. This hurts both the service (by depriving them
of users) and the users (by stifling a service which may well be useful or superior to existing services).
There you have it. The breakdown of who wins in a neutral versus non-neutral net. If you're an ISP, you hate net neutrality. If you're
a content/application/service provider, you love it.