Over the past few days you’ve probably watched all your techie friends post about this thing called Net Neutrality that could get struck down with a vote on December 15th as well as cries to call your congressmen or women and your reps. Now you’re probably wondering what the hell Net Neutrality is, and how does it affect me? I applaud the latest push by my various friends. However, we need to dumb it down just a bit so that people can truly understand why this is a big deal, and I intend to do that right now.
What is Net Neutrality you ask? Net Neutrality is a set of regulations that does a few things. The most important thing is that it classifies the internet as a utility no different from water, electricity, and gas. What this ensures is equal access to this resource by EVERYONE and that an internet service provider cannot control which businesses get which level of access. It also prevents service providers from charging companies additional fees to get unfiltered access to their customers.
There have been a lot of examples based on the results of not having net neutrality rules in places like Australia, where ISPs can charge extra for people to access certain types of sites. Now while this is a good example, it is also an extreme one that is more the end result, not an immediate consequence. I am going to use a more practical example of a serious consequence that can occur without neutrality rules, one that will have a nasty ripple effect that will stifle several years of innovation.
Before that, however, I need to explain a phenomenon that many participate in without even realizing it, which will lead into one of the biggest reasons this vote is being forced through.
About five years ago, a phenomenon known as cord cutting really started to take off with the wide spread popularity of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and easy access to digital downloads of shows and movies from Apple via Apple TV boxes. Cord cutting, or cord shaving, is the concept of forgoing a really expensive double/triple play bundle in favor of an internet only package and relying solely on streaming services and an antenna for TV needs.
Cord cutting came about as a result of people being annoyed with the fact that they were playing ridiculous amounts of money for large cable packages consisting of channels they never watched. The average cable subscriber will only watch about 10-15 of the hundreds of channels they pay for. Of those channels, they may only watch a few shows. Realizing this, a niche group of really tech savvy millennials started dropping their cable packages in favor of internet only packages and used streaming services to fill the void.
These people for once had more control over their content. They could pick and choose shows they wanted to watch by accessing Amazon and Apple’s stores. They could use Hulu Plus to access a lot of the shows they watched on major networks. They could choose to subscribe only to the streaming services they wanted at any moment in time. Someone could subscribe to Netflix only when House of Cards or Orange is the New Black was on and cancel that subscription when the show was over.
Cord Cutting was about control and most importantly, cutting costs. You no longer had to rent expensive equipment from your provider. With the rise of Game of Thrones, HBO Go account sharing became a thing. HBO could’ve easily punished this phenomenon, but they embraced it because it raised awareness of its show.
In 2014, HBO realized that the market of millennials who weren’t subscribing to cable was growing and decided it was finally time to sell HBO directly to the consumer. HBO NOW, a cable free subscription to ALL of HBO’s content was born. Showtime and Starz eventually followed suit. Smaller startups eventually released skinny internet only streaming services that contained only a handful of channels at a reasonable price. Sling was the first of these companies with a $20 skinny package that gave people access to ESPN without a big cable subscription for the first time ever.
Other companies followed suit, Sony released Playstation Vue and Direct TV released DTV Now which were cheaper versions of really expensive bundles. You also have smaller services like Fubo for people who just want sports and Philo, for people who don’t care about sports.
For the first time in years, people finally have choice and more control. Most importantly, people had more control over what they watched, and one ISP wasn’t pleased.
Back in 2012-2013 it was discovered that Comcast was throttling traffic coming from Netflix. There were enough people on Xfinity foregoing cable in favor of streaming services while on their network. Comcast decided to put this practice in place in hopes that people would get fed up with the unstable streams and go back to cable right where Comcast wanted them. It was later discovered that in order for companies to prevent this, they had to pay certain ISPs and extra fees in order to gain unfiltered access to various networks. Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman under the Obama administration, sought to put an end to this in 2015 by pushing our current Net Neutrality regulations thus making the internet a level playing field.
Over the last thee years, cable subscriber losses have been slowly rising, and in 2017 they are at an all time high. Several networks have been hurting as a result of people dropping cable. Two of the biggest ones are ESPN, who has had layoffs by the thousands, and Viacom, which actually had to shutter several channels in their package.
While many networks have fully embraced the changing times, a few want things to go back the way they were. These are the networks that have been putting the most pressure on the major telecommunications providers like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner to do something.
With the new Trump administration, telecommunications providers have their Trojan horse and savior in the form of Ajit V. Pai, the chairman under Trump who unfortunately has old ties to Verizon. He now aims to strike down the very laws that protected the internet from being controlled by four companies.
What does the end of Net Neutrality mean? It is as anti competition as it gets. The major telecommunications providers have gotten sick of having competition in the form of these smaller streaming services. Cable companies thrived on not having competition, which basically allowed them to do what ever they pleased. The rise of these streaming services and regulations that prevent ISPs from interfering with them has put Big Cable in a corner.
Judging by the fact that the Baby Boomer generation seems to blame millennials for “killing” various businesses, it’s pretty clear that the older generation refuses to embrace a changing climate. Younger people don’t have the disposable income their parents once did. They can’t afford to get the gigantic cable packages just to watch a few shows. People want options, and when Net Neutrality gets struck down, people will no longer have these options because Big Cable will do everything in their power to make these services so unstable on their networks that people will have no choice but to go back to cable.
I implore of all of you to call your reps and congress men and women. Years of innovation is at stake here because a few old men refuse to embrace a changing climate.
Flemmings Beaubrun is an avid gamer and lover of music. When not working, Flemmings likes to spend his time whipping up dank beats for the masses. He also spends his weekends thrift shopping for rare video games and obscure electronics. Other times he’s in front of a TV with a giant bowl of cereal enjoying shows from the 90’s.