What we lose when we lose net neutrality

What we lose when we lose net neutrality


Andy Lippman: Good afternoon. This is Andy Lippman at the MIT Media Lab, broadcasting to you. I know, I know you’re beleaguered by reading the news and finding all of the disastrous things that are going on in the world, and you don’t need me to heap one more on top of it but I’m going to because there’s one that’s really important to you that’s getting buried in all of the other things that are bombarding you every day in the news and in the media and this one is net neutrality. Now you’ve heard about 3 years ago from Jon Oliver and he mobilized 300,000 or more of you to inundate the FCC with calls and comments because he convinced you that it really mattered to you well I’m going to channel him and convince you again that this really matters to you, but first in order to do that let me give you a brief explanation of what what net neutrality is so you’ll understand why you’ have to care about it. The way to think about it is – think about your home and imagine that you have cable coming into your home, ok? And I don;t care who provides you that cable because this is not going to be a diatribe against any particular cable provider. It’s just structural so you’ve got cable coming into your home. So think of that cable as this big pipe but inside that big pipe there’s 2 kinds of pathways. You can think of it as a highway with 2 lanes, I don’t care. They all work. But you’ve got this cable coming in with 2 pathways. 1 of those pathways is cable television and that’s how you get your channels. Ok? And that’s the bulk of the cable as it turns out. The other cable that’s coming into your home is your internet cable connection. They’re packaged in the same wire and they’re virtual but there’s effectively 2 wires coming into you’re home. Now let’s look at what makes them different. In the cable wire, the person who owns the cable TV system decides what channels are on that wire. They have complete discretion over those channels, within some limits. They have to carry the local broadcasters, so on and so fourth but largely they have discretion as to what’s on there. If they decide that they want to allow the Home Shopping Network to be on that cable and not allow QVC to then it doesn’t matter whether you like QVC more than HSN or not, that’s their decision and they can make it. In fact, if they have their own shopping network, the owner of this cable that is, they can refuse both HSN and QVC, it’s entirely theirs. It’s up to them to do what they want. The other wire that comes into your house is the internet wire. Now the internet wire, sometime it’s filled to capacity, sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow, but that wire goes 2 ways and you can go anywhere on that wire and what Jon Oliver 3 years ago convinced you to call the FCC and they responded and did, was to ensure that on that internet wire, no one, not the owner of this cable, not anybody, can restrict or control where you can go with the internet. You can go to absolutely any site. You can go to (the) internet version of HSN, you can go to the internet version of QVC, no one can throttle those or discriminate between them or eliminate them. Now let’s peer into the future for a little bit because sooner or later that cable wire is going to be more that just watching television channels because it turns out that the type of bits by which you get those television channels are actually pretty much the same as the type of bits you get flow through the internet. It’s called IP, Internet Protocol. Right now when you watch something like Netflix for example, you’re watching it on the internet wire. And that’s an IP exchange of information, it’s Internet Protocol. But your TV channels are also delivered by IP. They’re not on the internet but they happen to be using the same electrical mechanism to deliver those bits to you. So technically it would be pretty easy for Netflix to move itself over there with an agreement with the cable company and use this call it “fast lane” to deliver Netflix to you in a way that wouldn’t interfere with your internet access. They could, that’s fine. Now the people who are trying to repeal net neutrality are trying to say we’re going to eliminate this wire and we’re going to transform the wire that goes into your home to one that is, in effect, entirely a cable wire. Which means they can control where those bits go, ok? Just like HSN and QVC, they can decide that Netflix is allowed to in that highway and they can decide that Netflix is not allowed in that highway. Now that raises a couple of important questions. And the first question that it raises is, and the most important question that it raises is what’s wrong with what we have today? Most people like to watch television on their cable channel. I know a lot of you are called “cord cutters” and you watch TV on the internet channel, that’s fine too. You can watch TV here, you can go to any website that you want, you can go shopping, you can talk to friends, you can use Facebook if you want even on this internet channel, you can even do the same thing there. There’s nothing wrong with having both of these. So this one we won the battle and it’s neutral to 2 years ago. So the first question you have to ask is what’s wrong with what we have today? Have people stopped investing in the internet? Have they stopped investing in cable? Has the industry stalled? Are you throttled? Are you stymied? Is anything wrong? No! There’s nothing wrong! And we have this sort of fundamental rule in engineering, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So question 1 is why are we trying to fix what isn’t even broken? Question 2: If we left the situation as it was would there be any impediment toward building any kind of future that any body wants including the owners of this cable and the rest of you? We mostly want freedom of access I hope and I suspect, ok? And the answer to that is no as well because just as I said that there’s no reason why Netflix can’t buy its way into this fast cable lane owned channel and pay some additional fee for it, that would be fine. Netflix could do that. But a competitor a startup, an innovator, an inventor, could still implement their new novel service into the new internet wire and the future would be fine. It would be ok. There’s nothing wrong with what goes wrong with that picture except 1 thing and that is as more and more services migrate into this fast lane and you can think of lots of them, you can think of for example of medical services, where you really do want prioritized access, so that if something goes wrong with your heart monitor, those bits get through in a guaranteed and quick way. Or you could think of a fire alarm in your house where there’s a fire, you want that fire alarm to be in a fast lane to be able to get back to the fire department. You don’t want it to potentially be slower because your sister or friend or roommate is listening to Spotify and using up the network channels. So you want that fast lane to exist. As more and more services move into that fast lane, the data the danger that we face is that the internet lane will get smaller and smaller to make room for the fast, prioritized services. And that’s scary because at that point the internet itself could become vestigial. It could become the home for leftover bits and all the main stuff goes through the highly paid fat wire. And if that’s what happens, then the startups, the innovators and the inventors gradually get squeezed and throttled to where there’s almost no invention left. So how do we fix it? We leave things almost the way they are but we add one additional rule and that rule is, if you’re going to make you’re fast lane bigger and more capacious to carry more and more services, then what you have to do is you have to also build the internet lane up at the same rate. So the internet lane is guaranteed to thrive and prosper at the same rate as these are. So rather than either or where you either have a neutral internet or you have a cable TV system why not think that what digital and internet allows you to do is both + and. You can have your future and you can eat it too. Now everything that I said is pretty easy to get. Right? You want faster, un-throttled, un-squeezed internet to grow at the same rate that the premium channels and premium highways can grow. But what happens when there is no wire what happens in the world of wireless because most of us live most of our lives in that wireless world as well. Wireless is not so easy to expand. It’s not so easy to expand in the paid, high priced lane and it’s not so easy to expand to expand in the other lane. So everything that I’ve said applies directly to the wired internet but we get a little complicated in the wireless internet. I don’t have an answer for that. That’s where we need innovation. And guess what? When there’s a need for innovation that gives us the chance to rise to the occasion. We have inventions in this lab and elsewhere that can make wireless grow that allows accommodation for all of that but what we don’t want to do is that we don’t want to let either of the wired or the wireless operators off the hook and say you don’t have to invent and you don’t have to innovate in order to build the future that I hope we all agree we want but instead you have actually not just cast it in the concrete of economics but cast it into the environment of invention. And I guarantee you that we can add that invention into the world of wireless the same way that we can simply do it in the world of wired. We just need to make sure that we make the playing field demand that. Now what can you do about all this? Well the same thing you did 3 years ago. 3 years ago 300,000, a million, I don’t remember, I lost count, you inundated the FCC with comments, you inundated them with phone calls, you crashed their servers. Now is when I channel Oliver, you have to do it again. I know there’s other things that are concentrating your attention. I know there’s other problems in the world. I read the newspapers as much, or as little, as you do. But I know that this one’s important because this one is going to decide your future and what you do and what information you can access and what inventions you can live with in the new world. So make that call, phone the FCC, write that note, and if you need to, we’ll tell you how. But do it between now and December 14th because that’s when they’re going to take their decision and we want them to know we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. Thanks.

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