If ISPs are allowed to charge content providers for access to their customers, the Internet as we know it may be at risk. The Internet has flourished as an open and neutral environment where everyone has equal access and no one has special privileges.
Imagine if it were possible for wealthy individuals to pay to be given privileged access to highways. Those with the money could have lanes closed to other traffic so that they can get where they want to be without having to deal with the gridlock the ordinary driver suffers through. That would good for the rich and for the people who make money selling access, but terrible for everyone else: people couldn’t get to work, goods wouldn’t be delivered on time, and economic efficiency would be seriously impacted.
In most countries, it’s not like that. Everyone has an equal right to use basic infrastructure like roads. People have to pay — roads are expensive to build, but the price is the same for everyone and no one can pay for special privileges. At the same time, no one can assert that they have a right to sell special privileges.
Since the early days of the Internet, it has been thought of in the same way as roads — at least in theory. Every packet that traverses the collection of networks that constitute the Internet is given more or less equal treatment. No one can buy or demand special access.
Everyone pays for their bandwidth. Content providers pay web hosting companies and content distribution networks. Hosting companies and data centers pay network operators and Internet Service Providers, whose networks connect together at peering points, ensuring that every Internet user can connect with every other user. Consumers pay last-mile Internet Service Providers, who connect the major network operators and bandwidth providers to our homes.
Everyone gets paid. But just as with the hypothetical road scenario, some want to demand payment for giving special access — in effect, those companies want to be paid twice. The last-mile ISPs control the access that content creators have to consumers, and vice versa. They are paid for bandwidth by consumers, but they also want to be paid by content creators for access to those consumers.
Those ISPs are deliberately degrading the quality of the service they offer to consumers in order to extort money from content providers. Your Netflix streaming will run slowly because your ISP wants Netflix to pay for access to you, even though you have already paid your ISP for access to Netflix.
Level 3, one of the largest network operators recently revealed that its connections to last-mile ISPs are heavily congested. The ISPs refuse to upgrade their connections to Level 3, a trivial expense for them. The result is dropped packets and poor service for consumers. Because the ISPs face minimal competition, they have little incentive to keep their customers happy and considerable incentive to attempt to extract revenue from those who need access to their customers.
The astonishing flourishing of the online economy over the last decade has been possible because anyone can do business on the Internet. Whether you’re Amazon or running a boutique online store selling homemade jewelry, Internet users can reach you at reasonable speed. Everyone can put their business ideas out into the world. Everyone can express themselves and be heard. Net neutrality is the principle that underlies this flourishing, but net neutrality is imperiled by the behavior of consumer ISPs.
Future Hosting, along with most of the web hosting industry strongly supports net neutrality. Our clients pay us for bandwidth; their customers, clients, readers, and followers pay ISPs for bandwidth. No one should be paid twice. Our clients should not have to compete with the bottomless wallets of Internet giants, who also support net neutrality, for access to Internet users. A neutral and open Internet is essential for the continued health and flourishing of the online economy and community.