“The phrase ‘Net Neutrality’ has been buzzing around a lot over the past month or so. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this – many more for than against. But what is net neutrality? Is it the same as internet for all as some claim it to be? Is it better for the consumer or the supplier? Who is the supplier – the carrier or the owner of the website/app that the consumer wants to access?
Let me try and deconstruct this using an example of a search engine. In the mid to late 90s, Yahoo! had a popular search engine much before Google was even formed. What if Yahoo! had tied up with some ISPs to offer searching on it’s search engine to be free whereas searching on any other search engine would incur carrier fees? What if the carrier deliberately slowed down the transfer speeds from other search engines? Would that have deterred competition enough to prevent Google from coming into existence? Would that have lulled Yahoo! into a sense of security that all the research that went into making search engines better would not have happened? There was a good change that it would and the whole internet community would have been poorer for that. Now, extend this example to all the other wonderful innovations on the internet. Could they have happened in a restrictive monopolistic environment? Same answer!
But, is net neutrality the be all and end all of equality on the internet. What happens when an online retailer offers deep discounts to drive traffic towards itself? What happens when taxi aggregators offer free rides? Is that not stifling innovation and new competition?
On a lighter note, imagine driving on a toll road, reaching the toll booth and then seeing a sign that says “if you are driving a Honda or BMW then you don’t have to pay any toll, but if you are driving anything else then you do have to pay”. Oops! Wrong analogy – as you approach the toll booth, you see a long list of not car makes or models but categories of people who are exempted. So much for equality”.