Why Gamers Should Care About Net Neutrality

We've heard the term 'net neutrality' bandied about the internet for more than a decade, yet many gamers aren't aware of how important the concept is to their continued online entertainment. Why should you care about net neutrality?

Perhaps you don't know what net neutrality means. That's a fair assumption, considering the phrase doesn't exactly lend itself to impressive, eye-catching headlines. Net neutrality, or network neutrality, at its most basic, is the idea that all network traffic should be treated equally.

Say you pay $US30 a month for your internet connection. Net neutrality dictates that, for your $US30, you have access to everything the internet has to offer, without restrictions to content, platforms or equipment you have connected to it. All data sources are treated equally.

Mind you this is a very basic explanation. It's a complicated issue.

Net neutrality is a hot topic at the moment because one of its chief proponents, the US Federal Communications Commission, recently lost a court appeal to Comcast over the prospect of denying their users access to BitTorrent, a popular means of sharing data both legitimate and shady across thousands of users at once.

Comcast attempted to restrict access to BitTorrent in 2008, only to have the FCC step in and ban them from doing so. Now a federal appeals court says that the FCC had no right to do that, and Comcast is free to do what it likes with its customers' service.

Now as gamers, we could live without BitTorrent, though some publishers make extensive use of torrent files to deliver content patches for PC games. There are plenty of other ways to deliver patches that a ban on torrents wouldn't cripple a gamer.

It's the potential restrictions that could come down the line that are more frightening.

Net neutrality, again, calls for no discrimination between data or the devices that connect to that data. With today's game consoles easily identifiable via network, what's to stop a broadband provider from claiming that too much traffic is being used by your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, and demand you pay a premium to connect them to the web?

Or massively multiplayer online games, for that matter. Millions of people play World of Warcraft in the United States alone. What happens when an ISP decides that World of Warcraft players need to pay a little extra for the constant connection to the game?

It may sound ridiculous to some, but there are already restrictions in place. Comcast now restricts its standard users to 250GB of bandwidth a month. While that's not a problem right now for most gamers, PC games are getting larger every day, and consoles are already starting to allow users to download full games directly to their hard drive. If a company like Comcast were to suddenly start breaking that 250GB into segments based on use, we could be in trouble.

Net neutrality isn't just about gamers, of course. The concept would keep companies from creating artificial scarcity for internet services, or offering premium services by simply slapping a price tag on services other internet operators provide for free.

As it stands right now, the internet is one of the last bastions of freedom left in the world. If the way we access the internet is allowed to be controlled too strongly, we risk losing that freedom. I'd really rather that not happen.

The internet is increasingly important to video games, and so net neutrality should be important to all of us.

For those in the know, feel free to share your net neutrality resources with each other in the comments of this post.

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Comments

    the US is so hard done by....

    I really hope this dose not go down the road i'm thinking it will.

    Ive been trying to warn people of this for a long time. But the response I get from people is "eh, wont happen."

    What providers and communications companies are trying to do is claim ownership of the internet.
    No one owns the internet.
    All providers do is charge customers for the ability to access the internet.

    What ISPs want to do is set up the internet (and charge customers ) for a subscription package based experience, like Foxtel.
    You bay $x for access to a limited amount of sites (selected by the ISP), pay more from a larger package, then more again. . .

    This will completely destroy 99% of the internet as customers will have no means of accessing sites beyond the big players like MSN, Yahoo, etc.

    Whats the point of the internet if you cant go where you want.
    Control of information. Control of content. Control of accessibility.

    A part of me thinks that this is what Australias internet filter will bring about. A subscription package based internet experience.
    Whos to say the ISP level filters cant/wont block everything and then you have to pay extra to access particular sites.
    You dont think companies like Telstra and Optus would love that idea? They already do it with Foxtel and Austar.
    ISP level filters give the ISPs control over what customers can access.

      I agree. The US Government is inherently fraudulent due to rampant corruption. It's government for and by corporations. Consequently, any Bill always turns out to be a sugar-coated cyanide pill that does the exact opposite of what it claims.

    We all need to be aware that a lot of Australian ISPs have a 'Fair Use' policy which states they can throttle reduce particular traffic for a user if they feel it hinders other's use of the service. So we're already over the barrel when it comes to net neutrality - the question is simply whether the ISPs will be able to get away with charging us for different types of traffic. Somehow I don't think so.

      Yeah and we have already been screwed by quotas. The article talks about the imposition of a 250 gig limit, whilst I'm stuck payign $40/ mo for a 3 gig limit! This country is STUFFED!

        But that's part of the reason this is being pushed so hard over there. People don't have bandwidth limits so they can download/upload on BitTorrent 24/7. This places a huge demand on resources that are already spread pretty thin, which drags the connection quality of all users down. So in order to provide a decent the service to the more casual browsers and gamers they've got to upgrade their resources to be able to handle the 24/7 guys, without actually charging them more than the people who don't download/upload 24/7.

        Quotas suck but tell me one other utility service (phone, electricity, gas, etc) that offers unlimited plans while still pulling in enough money to keep the business running well enough to provide a decent service.

        Also, I don't mean to sound like a tool, but if you're paying $40 a month for a 3GB limit then you really need to look into other ISPs. At the very least you'll find the same deal cheaper.

    Good article. This is an increasing problem coming today, especially thanks to our lovely senator Conroy.

    250gb limit is so good!
    I have a 20gb limit.

      I know, right!
      I'm on 8GBs, and hey, I'm super lucky if I manage 2 games off of Steam with that.
      I'm not even sure how I could even use 250GBs a month now that I think about it.

      I kind of get the FCC and Comcast thing though. Though FCC is, I suppose, protecting the rights to access free information, Comcast is still a business that provides a service. And if you're going to use that service, you abide by their rules. Is it so much different that a store with a sign saying "No shirt, no shoes, no service"? If you don't like it, you just go over another store.
      Of course, the obvious flaw with this is if all ISPs implemented (forced or voluntarily) these sorts of restrictions, but hey, it's not like anything like that is happening in Australia, right?
      ;D

    This really shows up how ass-backwards Australia is, compared to the rest of the world. ISPs don't want their gravy train to end.

    Personally, if and when these restrictions come to pass, I will be doing my best to subvert them.

    This has cleared up my wrong assumptions about this subject.

    Thanks.

    "Millions of people play World of Warcraft in the United States alone. What happens when an ISP decides that World of Warcraft players need to pay a little extra for the constant connection to the game?" What will happen is that millions of people will leave their restrictive ISPs and take their business elsewhere.

    Net neutrality is a bad idea that will hurt gaming more than it helps. Freedom of choice and freedom of competing companies to offer divergent products to attract customers will keep prices low quality of service high. If you don't like one ISPs offering then you can go to another. If you limit what the ISPs can do then you will only cause service to go down and prices to go up.

    Let me repeat: Net neutrality is an awful idea!

      I don't know what you're thinking about, but net neutrality in of itself doesn't prevent ISP offering value added services like you describe, just look at the ISPs that currently offer free downloads from steam or iview or Xbox Live.

    I'm with Ben on this.

    Let me explain. I'm an economist. I have a BEcon and MBusEcon from the University of Queensland.

    First, the debate here is not about "net neutrality." Rather, it is about government-enforced net neutrality.

    Even worse, the issue that Kotaku's coverage is evading is the fact that IF the US courts allow the Federal Communications Commission (essentially the censorship and regulation body) to coercively impose net neutrality, this sets a very dangerous legal precedent; specifically, that the FCC can regulate the internet.

    Net Neutrality is not the primary issue here. The issue is whether or not the Federal Communications Commission is allowed to regulate the internet. If the FCC can regulate the internet to enforce Net Neutrality, then there is nothing stopping the FCC from exerting the same amount of pressure on ISP's that they currently exert on TV networks.

    As for Net Neutrality itself, why do we need government regulation to have it? The US has had Net Neutrality for decades without any government regulations that legally mandate it.

    And even so, if an ISP stops offerring Net Neutrality (i.e. starts restricting what areas a user can access), that will make consumers either 1) demand lower prices, or 2) change to another ISP.

    Even so, maybe not all consumers WANT Net Neutrality. Some might only want access to certain areas of the web (or more likely, want to avoid accessing other areas of the web, read: porn). If an ISP wants to offer an "internet without porn" service, said ISP should be allowed to offer the product to the marketplace. You don't have to purchase it.

    Competition works in every market. Look at how the price of computing power has plunged since the 1980's! Net Neutrality can easily be assured by having competition and an informed marketplace. You don't need the state to make it law.

    And if you really think that "the corporations" are a more fearsome overlord than the government, please remember that 1) the corporations need to offer you a product first in order to get your money (unless they have friends in the government), and 2) it is the State, not private enterprises, that sponsored the Holocaust, the Soviet Gulags, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Pol Pot's killing fields.

    The largest agencies of violence in the modern world are States. You do not want these institutions regulating the internet.

    And yeah, you can claim "as long as we have good governments, states will stay in check," but this is blatantly false. The US had explicit constitutional restrictions on the power of the government and the politicians in that country still manage to weasel their way around those restrictions. The State is a monster, it must be chained.

    Asking the State to guard Net Neutrality is to ask the fox to guard the hen house.

      You make a good point, except you overlook that when the government stops regulating corporations, monopolies tend to result. We went through it in the U.S. in the late 19th century, and the same thing seems to be happening now. The U.S. political climate for the past 20 years or so has resulted in their being fewer and fewer restrictions on corporations, and the result has been a narrowing of consumer choices. Deregulating an industry may cause a short turn uptick in consumer choice as companies strive to increase their market share by attracting new customers with sweet (and not always sustainable) deals, but once the front runners consolidate their grip on the market, the situation deteriorates and price fixing and a decline in service across the board ensues. This has been a recurring theme with telecommunications. Look at how few choices people have compared to a few years back with regards to cell phone service providers in the U.S. and the general deterioration of customer service in nearly all industries. Refusing to regulate and instead telling people who are dissatisfied with their ISP to go to a new provider makes no sense if there is only one company that provides service in your area or if all the companies that do provide service are essentially colluding to maintain the status quo. Once a few companies take over a market, there is very little room for the little guy to get a toehold. I think the answer lies in finding the right balance between letting the market do its thing and government regulation, and frustratingly, the ideal balance is probably a moving target. Maybe it's different in your country (I assume from the place you got your degree that it is Australia). But the system of widespread deregulation we have had in the US in recent years is clearly not working well in anything from the financial industry to energy to transportation to telecommunications.

    Its becoming a scary place when our net liberty is threatened..
    As far as gaming is concerned, iinet is awesome for this. All my online gaming and downloads via xbox live are unmetred due to a deal between iinet and MS.
    Same with watching stuff from the ABC and other stuff they offer over freezone.
    I think they would be crazy to not keep going in this route to actually make genuine use moreaccesible and I think if anything these things will become more common place.
    ISPs love when they can point and say that their users are legitimate gamers, or web users.

    Our ability to simply freely transfer data, thats being harshly threatened. The only shining beacon seems to be anon in the fight against, and thats a bit of a scary prospect.

    I remember a couple years back, someone was ranting in my WoW guild about congress was considering enacting laws that ensure "net neutrality" and how that would cripple gaming because it would require everyone to have the same (slow) internet service....period, regardless of their willingness to pay for more access. But from what I've been hearing more recently, net neutrality is the current status quo and it is under threat and this could be harmful from everyone from gamers to small start up internet businesses.

    My husband and I both play WoW and occasionally view you tube videos and so forth. We made the choice a while back to upgrade to a very fast AT&T "U-verse" DSL service, as the regular AT&T DSL we had was not adequate to both of us being in 25 person raids simultaneously or to one of us watching you tube videos while the other was playing WoW (everyone told us our current internet speed "should" have allowed this). The higher speed service fixed our problems with choppiness, freeze ups and disconnects while playing WoW (especially in raids) or when one of us was doing something else on the internet while the other was playing. One could argue that for 90% of our use, the current speed is very excessive and we are not using close to the bandwidth we pay for, but under certain circumstances, we need it. How would changing the current rules affect people in our situation? Most gamers and businesses probably already pay for premium service, as "normal" levels of service are not always adequate to their needs. I don't mind users having access to different "tiers" of service for different costs. Someone who only uses their internet for checking e-mail and surfing the web a bit really doesn't need the same level of service as someone who games or downloads lots of videos. But I would oppose them placing restrictions on my use of bandwidth I am already paying for or further raising my fees to continue my current level of service. Is that likely to happen?

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