For those of you who are unaware, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted last month to systematically remove the regulations and protections for net neutrality in the United States. While this issue is considered by many to be a political topic, it’s something that all gamers should be deeply concerned about. This issue isn’t only limited to the United States. What happens in the U.S. will affect gamers around the world.
[As a disclaimer; this is my opinion. It is not reflective of Gamer Professionals as a whole and should not be considered the official stance of the Gamer Professionals.]
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the concept that all data is created equally. It is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be able to limit or manipulate the places you choose to go online. This means that no matter where you are on the internet, all data will arrive at the same time. For example, streaming and download rates on small websites are the same as larger sites. This allows smaller companies to compete on a level playing field with larger brands. It is how Facebook outcompeted MySpace and why Steam is able to compete with the Playstation Network.
What Could Happen Without Net Neutrality Regulations?
ISPs like Comcast and Verizon will no longer be forced to comply with the 2015 FCC Net Neutrality Regulations. They are free to create a two-tiered system. A two-tiered system means that ISPs could charge premium rates for faster internet speeds to specific websites. This would inevitably create a “fast lane” and a “slow lane” for content creators. ISP companies claimed that the two-tiered system isn’t like that. A two-tiered system would have a “fast lane” and a “faster lane.” However, unless the ISPs increase their bandwidth (which involves upgrading infrastructure) then they will have to slow some sites down in order to increase the speed on others.
The bottom line is that a two-tiered system would be equivalent to a pay-to-win game. If a company doesn’t pay extra, their content will move at a slower rate than those who do. This prevents smaller companies from competing with larger ones. It also forces larger companies to pay more for high speeds. What’s more, the ISPs could easily turn around and charge customers directly for faster access to specific websites. ISPs would have the ability to implement data caps and force consumers who heavily use the internet to pay higher premiums.
Essential, without net neutrality companies could charge customers for access to content and charge content producers for access to customers. The loss of net neutrality only benefits ISPs.
Didn’t This Happen before?
Yes. Back in 2015, the Federal Communications Commission decided to vote on whether or not they should increase the protections for net neutrality. Under the old rules, net neutrality was protected by Title I of The Federal Communications Act of 1934. However, Verizon sued the FCC. Verizon said that the federal government didn’t have the power to enforce the net neutrality rules under Title I. The courts ruled in Verizon’s favor. In response, the FCC decided to put things to a vote and opened their website for public comments. The sheer number of commenters actually crashed the FCC website.
After a long debate, the FCC placed the net neutrality rules under Title II, which is stronger and gave the FCC more power to enforce its regulations. Unfortunately, net neutrality is in trouble again thanks the recent rollbacks on said regulations.
Don’t ISPs Claim They Support Net Neutrality?
Yes, they do. Except, without these protections there is nothing to stop companies from eliminating net neutrality. In fact, ISPs have infringed on net neutrality before. Comcast was in negotiations with Netflix back in 2013. During those negotiations, Comcast drastically slowed the download speeds for Netflix until they agreed to pay more. At one point, Comcast actually blocked traffic to Bittorrent. Then there’s Verizon. As I mentioned before, Verizon sued the FCC which is why the net neutrality regulations were moved to Title II in the first place.
Why Should Gamers Care?
One of the first industries to be hit by the loss of net neutrality is gaming. Gamers use a ton of bandwidth. We live stream. We play for hours on end. eSports athletes practice their craft all day long. A single online game like World of Warcraft or League of Legends hosts millions of visitors who plays for dozens of hours a day. ISPs could charge you an extra fee for being a gamer only to turn around and charge gaming companies for access to you. It also means that if you are involved in eSports or playing online matches, you could have drastically slower speeds depending on the game and your internet provider. If you want to decrease lag for a single online game, you and the company must pay extra.
Sites like Youtube, Crunchyroll, Netflix, and Hulu already require a paid subscription to access all of their content. This could force other companies like Twitch, Steam, or Kickstarter to charge similar fees in order to recoup the losses. It would also mean that services like PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live will charge more for their subscriptions. Options for buying games online could become limited or you’d have to pay extra to gain access to the best websites. If the ISPs choose to create their own version of Steam, they could charge their competitors and consumers for access to those competing sites.
Net neutrality is the reason Steam grew into the juggernaut it is today. We can buy games directly from the creators or from specialized distributor sites. Net neutrality allows small developers like Scott Cawthon (Five Nights at Freddy’s) or Toby Fox (Undertale) to create websites for their games and operate on the same playing field as Ubisoft and Blizzard. It allows more games from small indie developers to reach wider audiences. Without net neutrality, new innovations or unique games will become less common due to the extra costs. Modders would have to pay in order to share their creations as well.
Essentially, gaming is going to become even more expensive than it already is.
Why Should People Outside of the U.S. Care?
Net neutrality debates occur around the world. Many countries look to the United States when it comes to governing how the internet works. Other countries will follow the example set by America. More countries could see rollbacks in protections for net neutrality. Plus, the general loss of new and inventive games or new outlets to play and enjoy said games affects everyone.
Even if other countries do not follow suit, a large portion of the most popular websites (Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) and major gaming outlets (Valve, Steam, Discord, Twitch, etc.) are based in the United States. Gaming companies have a huge audience in the U.S. and they encompasses a large part of the gaming market. Even if you aren’t in the United States, these companies will be hit and will have to take steps that could affect everyone. It’s possible that U.S. based companies could implement paid services or a hike in the prices for services you already have to pay for.
What Can You Do?
If you are inside the U.S., you can badger the living daylights out of the FCC, your local congressmen, and the cable companies. Call or email them directly. There are also plenty of petitions online that you can sign. Above all else, educate yourself on this issue.
If you are outside of the U.S. you’ll still need to educate not only yourself, but others on this issue. What’s more, you’ll need to keep careful track of your own country’s stance on net neutrality, as it might change.
Today is the Internet-Wide Day of Action on Net Neutrality. Thousands of websites, including big names like Google, Amazon, and Reddit, have come out publicly in support of net neutrality. There are plenty of sites that you can visit to show your support for Net Neutrality.