Why Net Neutrality Matters

Lifehacker has a great overview of net neutrality, the arguments for and against it, and last month's new FCC regulations. The issue is mainly being fought over entertainment services right now, but has future implications for the construction industry. As such, building product markets need to understand the issue now, and support the measures designed to defend it.

In brief, net neutrality is the idea that all information should travel through the internet at the same rate, as opposed to giving preferential transfer rates to preferred sources. Internet data travels in packets; as things stand now, and have for the history of the internet, every packet travels at the same speed, regardless of origin or destination, limited only by your connection speed and hardware.

Removing net neutrality means ISPs could slow down traffic to or from certain sites based on whatever criteria they wish. The common argument is that high bandwidth sites, such as YouTube, create a bigger drain on their resources and so should be A) slowed, or B) charged premium rates for high-speed traffic. But this also means ISPs could force content providers to pay high rates or have their data slowed so much their site becomes unusable.

This is, essentially, the model we have with TV and radio: certain companies control the bandwidth, and we have to pay to have our message distributed on it. Problem is, that is contrary to the way the internet developed, and destroys much of what is currently making the net so powerful and innovative.

Most building product companies would not have to worry about direct competition - there will be few cases where a single large manufacturer buys all the space in a given niche, but the indirect consequences will be very important, because removing net neutrality would restrict the way your customers can use the internet.

Consider a small example: imagine Hanley-Wood buys premium data speeds with AT&T, and McGraw-Hill buys premium speed with Verizon. Your decisions about where to buy online advertising will now have to take into account what ISP your target audience uses. Since this data is rarely reported, and hard to collect, you will have to guess. And probably lose half your potential audience.

Even worse, many neighborhoods still only have a single ISP, so the geographic distribution of your audience now matters, neighborhood by neighborhood.

The bigger prize, though, is future innovation. BIM and mobile computing are changing the way designers use the internet. Right now architects don't use nearly as much data streaming as something like Netflix, but that could change in the next few years as architects need to send entire building models between offices, or from their smartphone. We need to maintain net neutrality so these innovations can develop according to the needs of our industry, not the needs of an ISP.