Who will pay for the communications networks of the 21st century?
This month, the Federal Communications Commission passed net neutrality rules it thinks will help consumers. But the rules will have many unintended consequences, and could actually hurt consumers.
People love Netflix: During primetime hours, Netflix video is responsible for a third of home Internet traffic. Internet service providers and big content creators have long had commercial arrangements to ensure smooth handling of their data. In its new rules, the FCC takes sides, frowning upon the idea that any money should change hands on the back end.
This is great news for Netflix -- but very bad news for consumers. Transmitting all this content gets expensive. If ISPs can't charge the world's biggest content makers for necessary network improvements, they'll be forced to raise rates for consumers. But why should consumers foot the bill?
In today's economy, many families are already forced to choose between gas in the car and food on the table; for them, broadband is a luxury. And many low-income individuals lack access to the fastest broadband networks. ISPs are sometimes reluctant to invest in underserved areas because they don't know if they'll recoup their costs. Under the FCC's new rules, the Digital Divide will continue – and maybe get worse.
We need to recognize the conflict of interest between Big Content and Little Consumers when it comes to who pays for the Internet. If we want to narrow the Digital Divide, Big Content must contribute its fair share.