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Net Neutrality is dead

Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) during a town hall meeting at Google headquarters November 14, 2007 in Mountainview, California. In his visit Obama spoke on his position of Net Neutrality, keeping the internet a free, open network.
Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) during a town hall meeting at Google headquarters November 14, 2007 in Mountainview, California. In his visit Obama spoke on his position of Net Neutrality, keeping the internet a free, open network.
Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images

A federal appeals court disabled the safety features designed to keep the Internet an equal-access information highway. Net Neutrality has essentially been gutted by a court system that favours those who can afford the best lawyers. The one place in the world where just about anyone could start their own business will soon be littered with whatever obstacles an ISP desires to deter use of competing properties in favour of its own.

Google would never have lived past birth if Net Neutrality hadn’t existed in its early days. Yahoo was the search powerhouse at the time and Google would never have been able to afford all of the access fees that this court decision would now allow. In this example, Yahoo could have made deals with the major internet providers to allow them faster speeds while throttling those of their competitors. That is exactly what this decision has opened the doors to allow.

Imagine a world where your ISP made deals with NBC/Universal so that when you visit a competing property, such as FOX News, the bandwidth is throttled to the point of making the site unusable. That is now legal. But this decision has far worse consequences than that, for that is still competition between large companies that can afford the added operating costs.

Startups that have yet to exist are the biggest losers here. If top-tier access is something every ISP starts charging top domains for then how would anyone be able to create the next Facebook? The costs associated with trying to keep up with Facebook’s spending just to reach the market would prevent the project from ever getting started. To put this in simpler terms, if you want to open a bookshop then you need to rent or buy a building and stock that building with books. Sure there are costs involved in getting started, but what if you also had to build the roads that got customers to your store? That’s kind of what this is like.

Access fees are one thing (i.e. taxes that go to road design and maintenance), but these metaphorical costs are already being paid in internet access fees to their ISP. So perhaps a better metaphor would be to say that now a bookshop owner in California can be made to pay for a road in Wisconsin that is leading a potential customer to California. Makes even less sense when you put it like that. As for consumer protection (the FCC's main purpose), the business can not afford to exist if it doesn’t pass these costs onto the customers.

So the Internet, which was designed by researchers as a way to share knowledge, is going to become more and more costly as companies gradually start taking advantage of their newly awarded powers. Only Congress can help us now, and they can’t get anything done.