The Untamed Frontier: Net Neutrality
By Jonathan (Ardua ) Doyle OnRPG Journalist
If you’re reading this, you’re obviously on the internet. Each and every person who has come to the site is an internet user and each of you were given the same priority to get here. This then is a quick chat with you about that and about Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is one of those topics that really has all sorts of people wrapped up in it. Any of you who get involved can be sure that I won’t be calling you liberal nuts or saying that you should go to North Korea. Honestly none of that helps.
So What Is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is what you are likely experiencing depending on where you are in the world. You log on, you get your internet and that internet is exactly what everyone around you can get. You do not get priority site loading, you don’t have a Skype AWESOME account for that much more quality and you can look at any site you want (assuming home and not business use). You have as much right to the available bandwidth as any other user, be they head of state or grandma checking her email. Provided you’re not trying to knock other people off line or otherwise hog the entire internet, you’re golden.
Why Does This Matter?
In America in 2007 it was discovered that Comcast, an ISP, was artificially throttling the speed on peer to peer sharing. The same sort of sharing that many MMOs use themselves to patch. This of course put any sort of legit peer sharing in danger. When the second biggest ISP in America decides to fiddle with how you get your internet and from where, people notice. So the FCC stepped in to correct the situation and stop the inequality. Comcast then sued the FCC and very recently won the case.
Thus there has been precedent set for a company to legally fiddle with traffic on the internet, that supposedly neutral environment where we work and play. This becomes an international concern for those of you not in the US when you consider that if one country gets away with milking customers for more money, others are bound to take notice if not outright emulate the behaviour.
What Is Going To Happen?
Well that depends… You see there are forces on both sides of the fight and to be honest making a full battle of it ends badly for us all. Well… maybe.
If ISPs continue the way that Net Neutrality proponents are claiming they will, it is possible that we will witness the birth of TV like content on the net. If you want fast access, you’ve got to pay more. If you want Hulu or YouTube, you’ve got to pay more. If you want, under this scenario, to download that nice MMO you’ve been meaning to play you may have to upgrade to the “MMO Package” your ISP offers to even be able to reach websites about MMO’s!
Imagine similar MMO packages provided by your ISP
If they maintain Net Neutrality, there is the fear that in retaliation ISPs who build and maintain the data networks will bring in capped limits.
The International Perspective
Capped limits? Cry me a river. I, in Ireland, have always had capped download limits. My current ISP gives me 50gigs a month if I remember correctly. That’s more than enough to download anything that I might want, download my game patches and game clients and still play. Really the only time I start hitting the cap is when I suddenly want to watch an entire television series. If America or in fact any country ends up with the capped limits, let me tell you it isn’t all that bad.
The other side of the debate though, the throttled traffic, that’s where we as players should sit up and take notice. Do you enjoy your MMO? Is it pay to play or free to play? Is the item shop affordable? Hopefully whatever type of game you play and however much you spend you find it reasonable. However with so many of the games I play being based in America, the idea that ISPs could start charging the companies for their level internet access is scary. Add to that the amount of users that could be affected… it starts to look iffy for us MMO gamers.
Intentionally lowering performance
Even if your game is free to play, you have to pay a bill to get online. Do you really like the idea of having to upgrade your internet to a more expensive package just to be able to play your free games?
A Series of Tubes
When checking people’s opinions on Net Neutrality, one thing was made apparent to me and this brings in a touch of politics. In a neutral network, we can all say and do as we please. If I want to learn more about any given political party, no matter how crazy they may be, I can. If net neutrality goes because others want to control how the network is used rather than trying to expand to fit us all, there is the possibility of censorship as well as network throttling. It’d start simple as in the case of a Spanish telecoms company. They plan to charge Yahoo, Bing and Google for use of their network. From there it’s a short trip to charging anyone they want for the right to go on Wiki or in the most extreme cases, the outright censoring of sites.
For us MMO gamers this could mean that you can still reach games run by big companies like Runes of Magic, Karos and World of Warcraft. But smaller companies might not be able to compete and their access to the internet could be cut off entirely!
As the meme goes, the internet is a series of tubes and no one wants to see them blocked off for any reason.
Look To The Future
Regardless of how this all plays out, as it stands the internet could change in the future for some of us. What this will mean for games companies remains to be seen. Without necessarily getting caught up in the politics of it all, this will affect you in some way in a time to come. Do keep an eye on what happens, do be prepared to get involved and do remember, the internet is ever changing.
Tomorrow online may not resemble today, hopefully it will be brighter.