Ones and Zeros

In the interest of clarifying the debate, here’s the argument in favor of net neutrality.

Delivering broadband capacity is like delivering gravel. It doesn’t take a ton of talent or innovation. It’s been done for years. There’s typically a demand for more as we pave over the world, but the focus has shifted from the need for gravel to the need for the structures that rest above it after talented engineers, architects and builders get done. In other words, gravel is a “commoditized” product. binary stream

Ones and zeros are a commoditized product too, and the gravel delivery services (the Internet’s ISPs) just have to realize that their industry has “matured,” that their initial developmental costs have LONG been recovered, and that the profit margin on their product will therefore naturally decrease over time.

But in fact, they do realize that – and that’s why critics say the whining (and suing) against net neutrality is so cynical.

See, since margins are tighter, the gravel miners (ISPs) don’t want to invest and make more gravel – they would rather just choke off supply (effectively – in this case demand is actually pushing capacity) and raise prices. That means gravel will no longer be available for the startup dress shop ( or video production company (, but will only be delivered to the big skyscraper projects (Google) that pay the most for their product and can afford to capture the available supply at a high price.

The fact is that the big ISPs enjoy monopolies. Detractors say they don’t want to make the investments required to deliver more bandwidth for your ever-increasing demand for data. The ISPs are facilitating that demand to be sure, but the argument is that their model dictates that it is much easier to sit back, restrain capacity and charge ever-higher rates for and increasingly scarce resource than it is to roll out more capacity or do the research and development on new technology allowing the same wire to handle more data.

And I should also note that demand isn’t increasing because of anything the ISPs are doing, it’s increasing because the rest of the world is innovating – and that’s what proponents of net neutrality say needs protecting.

If competition were possible in our wired world, net neutrality would be an unnecessary government regulation, but since it’s not (want your neighborhood dug-up again?) – it’s crucial that the creative community, the innovators, the inventors, and the service providers be given a guarantee of a level playing field – even if it means favoring the world’s creators over the people who just happen to own the dumb pipe that flows digits into your house.