The concept of “net neutrality” sounds nice on paper: All data on the Internet should be treated and delivered equally. “A bit is a bit,” we are told.
But is it really? Internet pioneer Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT’s Media Lab and the One Laptop Per Child project, calls the idea “crazy.” He explained why recently in an August 13th video on the “Think Big” website:
[P]eople don’t appreciate that a book, a normal novel, is about a megabyte. And yet a second of video is more than a megabyte. So when you look at video for a couple of hours it’s the equivalent of hundreds of books. And then if you have a pacemaker that transmits—this is an imaginary pacemaker now that communicates and monitors your health by sending data up to the Cloud. Then a few bits of your heart data are a small fraction of a book. So you have bits that represent your heart, bits that represent books and bits that represent video. And so to argue that they’re all equal is crazy.
Such statements may ruffle supporters of net neutrality who refuse to acknowledge that streaming video is inherently different than sending a plain-text e-mail, but the fact is that the Internet does not transmit generic, all-purpose “bits.” And it’s not just a matter of two or three classes of content: The variations could be endless. What type of video is it? Is it urgent? Does it involve a medical issue, or is it a cat video? Regulators can’t differentiate among the different types of content, nor do we want them to.
Yet, regulatory crusaders are using the meme of bit neutrality to impose comprehensive neutrality regulation. The result of such regulation—which would treat the Internet like water companies and traditional telephone companies—is less innovation and degraded service for everyone. Let’s avoid that by rejecting the bunk concept of net neutrality regulation.