Today thousands of websites are protesting the US government’s recent threats against net neutrality, a harbinger of the internet apocalypse. Internet behemoths such as Google, Amazon (which owns Twitch) and Reddit as well as smaller sites such as Ifixit and Plays.TV are participating in today’s day of action against internet service providers’ push for, among other things, the right to slow down access to or block competing websites. For gamers, rolling back net neutrality means gaming could get a lot more expensive.
Right now, the internet is a utility, not a privilege. In 2015, Barack Obama introduced a mandate that forced US internet service providers such as AT&T, Spectrum and Verizon to give equal internet access to all consumers, preventing providers from charging more for “fast lanes” or throttling certain websites. For example, Verizon couldn’t stifle access to Vox Media because it’s a Comcast venture.
President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai wants to repeal Obama’s net neutrality rules. He has said he favours “free and open internet”, but he’s concerned that the more that internet is regulated, the less incentive service providers will have to compete and improve. It’s worth noting that Pai worked as general counsel at Verizon from 2001 to 2003. Other politicians may have more cynical reasons for opposing net neutrality: Cable companies have donated millions of dollars to hundreds of politicians in the most recent US election cycle, which speaks volumes about what democracy looks like in the internet age.
Net neutrality is something gamers should care about. In 2014, Kotaku‘s Jason Schreier warned that, without net neutrality, cable companies could “charge gaming networks more money” and “that cost will trickle down to us, the people who pay for those services in the first place”. He added, “Worse, what if ISPs wind up separated into factions? What if Sony decides to cosy up with Comcast, paying them a pretty penny to ensure that PSN runs smoothly, while Microsoft won’t give? Imagine having to pick a new gaming system based on what will run more quickly on your network — this could give a whole new meaning to the term ‘console wars’.” That same year, Kotaku‘s Nathan Grayson reported that a slew of famous game developers who worked on titles such as Far Cry 3, Ridiculous Fishing and Torment spoke out about what net neutrality meant to them and their industry.
As Hyper Light Drifter‘s Teddy Diefenbach (now at Square Enix) said in 2014:
Paid prioritisation for the internet indicates that the landscape of it will shift immensely, if the rules are instated. The internet could end up resembling fractured real-estate markets, or even cable television services (disgusting) where users pay a higher fee for premium content (streaming video, large market places), more than the level and relatively open repository of content and data it is now… An even larger implication: The somewhat anemic (though changing) digital distribution model on consoles as a viable future would suffer as well. Costs go up to provide fast enough access (where Sony or Microsoft pay for the quicker lanes) to the gigs of data required for a modern game, and those costs get passed on to consumers and possibly publishers; one more knock against a model that platform holders are already somewhat trepidatious about.
So, that’s what’s up with all your favourite sites talking about net neutrality today.