Net Neutrality: Does it really matter?

The decision by the US Federal Communications Commission to regulate broadband providers to ensure that all data traffic is treated equally has been hailed by some as a step forward in achieving net neutrality. But does forcing a common-carrier regulatory approach on internet service providers really make any difference to consumers?

Not according to Margeurite Reardon at CNet.

The basic premise of the net neutrality movement is that by preventing commercial controls over how and whose data is prioritised via the internet, the network itself can remain neutral as to how and whose data is moved. The internet has largely been unregulated for the last two decades, unlike telecommunications services which have been subjected to common carrier rules since at least the early 20th century.

The original purpose of the common carrier rule was to prevent telegraph and later telephone operators from controlling newspaper content sent via the infrastructure. This regulatory concept, among other things such as commercial agreements, became the basis for the divergence of the newspaper, telecommunications (telegraph and telephone were diverged further in North America) and later the broadcasting industry.

Traditionally, broadcast content was regulated for cultural reasons, whereas telecommunications common carriers were required to carry any message to prevent the control of information. Of course, in the age of technological convergence, the distinction between these industries has become less clear.

The debate in the US is fierce. While proponents suggest net neutrality will keep the internet free, opponents see it as nothing more than government meddling.

The trouble is that net neutrality assumes limited resources and is still somewhat based on the natural monopoly argument. That is, where one carrier dominates, it must be a common carrier to prevent the prioritisation of traffic. But with so many providers and so many ways to access the internet, it all seems rather passé

Will net neutrality keep the internet open? Better to ask if it was ever open. Does it really matter to consumers  whether some content gets delivered via fast lanes? It would seem that this would be something that consumers want. Indeed, if they did not like it then there is always another provider. Why shouldn't you be able to get what you pay for?

So despite all the brouhaha, the net neutrality decision in the US is little more than a big win for the idealists. And it won't make much difference to what happens here in Australia.

I were to make a prediction, I doubt net neutrality will survive the court appeals that will no doubt follow. Even if it does, a Republican win at the next election would probably kick it into touch anyway.

And does it really matter to consumers? Not really, other than it might mean it costs more to access the internet in the US.