Right now, American gamers have it good. Their internet providers might do some slimy things, but today they can access all the web has to offer without maxing out their credit cards. If they don't want that to change, they're going to have to fight.
For years now, the big American broadband companies such as Verizon and Comcast have been fighting against net neutrality, or the idea that all websites and online services are equal, and that internet providers do not have the right to throttle speeds for some services over others. Without regulations enforcing net neutrality, a company like Time Warner Cable could go to Microsoft and say something like "hey, we're going to make Xbox Live run more slowly unless you pay us more" or "hey, we're going to make the PlayStation Network faster than Xbox Live unless you pay us more."
Any of those extra costs would of course trickle down to customers, making regular hobbies — Netflix, online gaming and who knows what else — significantly more expensive.
The US government has spoken out in favour of net neutrality, but last night reports emerged that the Federal Communications Commission had reversed positions — under the FCC's new guidelines, according to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, internet providers could offer a "fast lane" and give preferential treatment to companies willing to pay.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler responded this morning, calling the news reports "incorrect" in a frustratingly vague blog post that doesn't actually deny what those very reports claimed. "The proposal would establish that behaviour harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted," Wheeler wrote. "The allegation that it will result in anti-competitive price increases for consumers is also unfounded."
The FCC has not yet released its new "Open Internet Rules" guidelines, but if those reports are correct the implications are alarming for anyone who doesn't want greedy, consumer-hostile corporations clogging internet services that don't want to pay.
What's becoming increasingly obvious is that we — normal people who already pay way too much to play games online — need to speak up. We need to make it clear that this is unacceptable. In 2007, US presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed to support net neutrality — and we need to hold him to that promise.
"I am a strong supporter of net neutrality," Obama said then. "What you've been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you're getting information over the internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different websites... And that I think destroys one of the best things about the internet — which is that there is this incredible equality there."
It's easy to be pessimistic and assume that this battle is out of our hands — that greed will win out — but it's just as easy to contact the FCC. It's easy to email Tom Wheeler and tell him this isn't OK. It might not feel like we have a lot of options, but we have at least one: We can get our voices out there. We can speak up.