Every Time You Vote Against Net Neutrality, Your ISP Kills a Night Elf
Net Neutrality The debate over net neutrality 1 has often focused on video as the dominant medium that made the prioritization of packets either crucial or harmful. However, video is not the offering that will suffer the most if net neutrality becomes a wistful memory. Rather, the users that are likely to be most materially disadvantaged are those that utilize the Net for interactive communications – particularly voice over IP (VOIP) and online gaming. Of these two finalists for the dubious title of “innovation most likely to be stifled to the detriment of everyone by loss of net neutrality,” gaming is by far the more irreplaceable and senseless loss.
Unlike video and voice, ISPs are unlikely to have or be able to obtain a viable material stake in the gaming business and have no replacement for the service. As a result, consumers stand not only to lose their choice of the source of this product, but the very value of the gaming service itself.
What Will Live
The battle over net neutrality is really a battle for latency (and jitter). It is unlikely that an ISP will make the mistake of repeating Canadian ISP Telus’ attempt at outright censorship2. Rather, the ISP’s gentle nudge towards the preferred offering or provider is likely to come in the form of slow and inconsistent network performance for services that refuse to pay what amounts to “protection money” to an ISP.
Contrary to popular opinion, latency will not kill online video. After all, while a video that buffers for a longer period of time (or requires an advance download) is an inconvenience, it is one with which we coexisted not too long ago, and does not prevent the viewer’s eventual enjoyment of the sought-after experience. In a fit of poetic justice for the converged content provider / ISP, latency and jitter may even drive users from semi-legitimate streaming services with some minimal respect for copyright (e.g., YouTube) to download-focused sources that publicly mock infringement notices (e.g., The Pirate Bay3).