Net neutrality—the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot limit what you do online or give preferential treatment to one streaming service over its competitors—has long been the dream of many Americans.
Now many fear that the limited version of net neutrality we have is in danger as a new administration comes into power. But I would argue that the net neutrality we have now is far from what we need. What cord cutting needs is more Internet service provider competition to help bring down prices and keep ISPs honest.
So why do we need Internet service provider competition more than net neutrality?
Net neutrality is great in concept because you are able to stream any service without worrying about your ISP slowing down the traffic to affect your streaming experience; however, what if you had several ISPs to pick from?
Right now most Americans are limited to two, maybe three, Internet service providers. Some are even stuck with just one Internet service provider. This allows your ISP to charge almost anything it wants for that service and has no reason to invest in faster speeds at the same rate as ISPs who face competition.
However, in the new markets that have three or more ISPs we are already seeing prices coming down and speeds going up. Competition brings faster speeds at lower prices.
What about the risk of ISPs blocking traffic from services they do not own? Let’s take a look at the streaming TV market for an example. PlayStation Vue recently dropped Viacom channels to the uproar of many; however, if you want Viacom you can easily switch from Vue to Sling TV or DirecTV Now and it takes less than an hour.
With ISP costs being the same whether you are streaming Netflix or Hulu there is really no cost issue that PlayStation Vue is having. If there was real competition and an ISP started to block services or slow them down you could easily switch to one of the competitors.
If you really want to keep costs down and put pressure on ISPs to increase speeds you need competition. Net neutrality is great in concept but as it stands today it still allows a couple of ISPs to control your Internet access putting a stranglehold on price and speed.
Having both competition and net neutrality is great but if I had to pick one then competition is what we need. Net neutrality is a great idea but it only fixes part of the problem. A fee and open ISP market would likely result in lower costs and no data caps.
So how would we get more competition?
There is a lot of truth that wiring cities for a second or third ISP is expensive. (Especially with all the red tape there is now.) Our best bet is the new wireless Internet service that companies such as Google are testing out. The new wireless Internet service works similarly to how cell phone towers work. Put a few of them up to cover major areas and in a fraction of the time of a wired service you could have a second or third ISP offering real competition.
Hopefully this technology takes off not only for more competition but also as an inexpensive way to service more rural areas.
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