A Final Warning about Net Neutrality

"Stupid is as Stupid does"

Courtesy of Netflix
Sometimes the most intelligent people can make the dumbest mistakes. Most intelligent people acquire knowledge in the same manner as the rest of us, through trial and error, but it typically takes them less time to understand the practical applications of what they've learned to apply it in a useful manner. Other times, it can take a bit "mansplaining" before even the most intelligent people comprehend what should be an obvious lesson. In an effort to alleviate any possibility of the cable industry looking back at their decisions regarding net neutrality, and claiming there was no way to have predicted the outcome, I'm kindly going to deliver some free "mansplaining" before they make the biggest mistake in the history of media companies. I'm going to state this as clearly as possible. LEAVE NET NEUTRALITY ALONE!

For those who aren't as familiar with the topic of net neutrality as us hardcore techies, I'm going take a minute to summarize (in Layman's terms) what it is, and why you should care about it. If you're reading this post you're probably one of the millions of people in the world who access some kind of multimedia via the internet. If you subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Directv Now, or any other streaming subscription service, you fall into the category of people I'm addressing and should make sure to read this article in its entirety, or at least far enough to get pissed off that I'm actually taking the time to warn big cable not to do something that would ultimately make your life easier in the long term.

Courtesy of FCC.gov
If you have one of the aforementioned subscription streaming services, you probably enjoy access to thousands of music and movie titles via an internet connection that's provided by a cable or internet operator, and until now, that really hasn't been a problem. Since the beginning of streaming, these companies that have been providing internet connections to your homes while adhering to a simple principle called Net Neutrality. The principle goes something like this...as long as you are paying for the connection, whatever you decide to download via that connection is up to you, and the internet companies have no say it in whatsoever. More recently, the content consumers are choosing to stream has inhibited the ability of those same cable and internet companies to monetize their own content, so now they're lobbying the FCC to remove the rules that have created the Net Neutrality policy, and enable them to charge more for content coming through their pipelines that originates from competing services.

History Repeats Itself

You've probably been hearing a lot of techies trying to convince consumers that net neutrality needs to stay in place, and taken at face value, that argument would appear to be correct. But if you dig a little deeper you'll see that the abolishment of Net Neutrality could be the best thing for those of us who choose to access our favorite media via the internet. Just in case you're wondering how the abolishment of Net Neutrality could ever work out in the consumer's favor, all you have to do is take a look at the current state of the wireless carrier industry. Due to the fact it's much easier to change services and equipment between wireless carriers, service providers on the wire-free side of the business have always had to adapt much faster than prototypical cable and internet providers, and this has always made them a bit of a canary in a coal mine for rolling out cable and internet company strategies.

It wasn't that long ago that conversations with wireless executives about unlimited data plans resulted in executives stating, with 100% confidence, they would never have to offer unlimited data plans to their customers. Less than five years later things have changed, with wireless agreements including unlimited talk, text, and data, in addition to offering consumers the choice between Netflix, Hulu, and HBO, depending on with which carrier they decide to sign on the dotted line. So, how did we go from one end of the spectrum completely to the other in less than five years? It all revolves around competition related to the price point of data.

Make no mistake, talk and text are ones and zeros just like any other form of data, but wireless providers thought they came up with one of the greatest of ideas all time, monetizing someone else's content by charging their customers by the kilobit to access it and seemingly reaping the benefits just for owning the data stream. In the masterminding of this seeming flawless strategy, they failed to account for capitalism, the singular driving force behind the erosion of all corporate profits, and also the reason we all have a wide variety of unlimited data choices today. The newly sparked competition to regarding data price points resulted in something I rarely get to reference outside of hyperbolic arguments – a slippery slope. It all started with T-Mobile.

T-Mobile realized data overages would significantly hinder their customers from maximizing their wireless devices, so they began to include certain popular music services within their data plans. It wasn't long before other major wireless providers were forced to follow suit and even one-up one another by including other popular subscription services in their data plans as well. As the slope got slipperier, it didn't take long for the first provider to declare their plan as unlimited (it was Sprint if you're wondering), and the era of "truly unlimited" (still getting throttled) data plans began. As competition between carriers continued to intensify, they started going even further, offering unlimited data plans that include some of the most popular streaming video content as well. So what does all of this have to do with Net Neutrality?

A Non-Compete Clause

Contrary to popular belief, you should probably be rooting for Net Neutrality to go away, because if it does, cable and internet companies will probably start offering unlimited data plans to homes, and may even be forced to throw in some free subscriptions services as well. As of right now, most consumers are under the impression they are getting unlimited data when they sign-up for home internet, but this isn't really the case, with most home internet services have a 1 Terabyte monthly data limit. Due to the fact that most customers never reach that limit, they're relatively unaware of its existence, even though their provider has probably already notified them about it. These limits were preemptively put in place as streaming services like Netflix have beaten traditional cable providers to the punch when it comes to delivering Ultra High-Definition (4K) content to homes.

The delivery of 4K content has become a bigger point of emphasis now that HDTV manufacturers have been ushering retailers towards selling UHD televisions in greater proportions than 1080p sets. The transmission of the content that matches these newer, higher resolution televisions puts an enormous amount of stress on an aging internet infrastructure by requiring significantly more bandwidth than 1080p content, and the ability to reliably deliver that increase in bandwidth isn't something streaming providers like Netflix are responsible for maintaining. We can argue about the fairness of this arrangement later, but for now, we've reached the core of the Net Neutrality dilemma. As the amount of data used to deliver 4K content streaming to homes increases, inevitably, consumers will realize their home internet service plans more closely resemble the restrictive wireless data plans of the past than the newer unlimited data plans of the future. This places the cable industry in the exact same position as the aforementioned wireless carriers were in just five years ago.

On one hand, cable and internet providers could leave home internet services and Net Neutrality exactly as they stand, collecting overages whenever a customer surpasses their limit, hoping they can hold on long enough to figure out their own delivery system. This plan only works as long as all of the other cable companies hold the line (proving they were never really competing in the first place) and don't start down the slippery slope of offering higher data limits in an effort to gain market share. Or, they can abolish Net Neutrality now, unleashing an immediate flurry of competition that will undoubtedly lead down the rabbit hole to including everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to maintain video subscribers. So what can they do?

Let's be real...there is nothing these cable and internet providers can really do to stop capitalism. This situation was bound to emerge one way or the other, and in all honesty, it's a lose/lose situation for all of them. The real opportunity lies in their ability to do something they have never done before...give customers what they want without having to pry it out of them with a crowbar. Go unlimited now, and save us all some time and effort.