It has been a tumultuous year for proponents and opponents of net neutrality alike. In June, net neutrality was officially repealed after months of public outcry and pushback from Democrat lawmakers. However, just one month later in July, Colorado Representative Mike Coffman announced he would be introducing a bill titled the “21st Century Internet Act” that would establish net neutrality as law, essentially taking the FCC out of the rulemaking process and designating them as the watchdog organization to enforce the law.
With a new administration coming into power in the next two to six years, there also exists the possibility (and likelihood) that a new ruling on net neutrality will take place if it doesn’t happen sooner. This poll from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found overwhelming, bipartisan opposition for repealing net neutrality back in December 2017 with 83 percent of respondents opposing. Considering those numbers, the finality of the repeal will likely be challenged.
While the opposition of the repeal is fiercely outspoken, is there anything to gain from the repeal for the data center industry? And will these gains be reliable in the wake of political turmoil from this unpopular ruling and unpredictable administration?
Supporters of the net neutrality repeal believe that regulation is inherently bad for business, and more government interference in the Internet will only result in more bureaucracy, higher costs, and a poorly-performing Internet. After all, the Internet came into existence without heavy regulations and grew into the highly influential and disruptive technology it is today, so why not let it continue its natural course?
Those still fighting net neutrality’s repeal though, passionately believe that data should be equally accessed and available to all regardless of data type, device type, location of device, location of the data, or other parameters that a business might leverage to tier access to online data. Many have hypothesized what the repeal will mean for the consumer – data fast lanes for those who pay more, throttled service for competition, and general lack of consumer protection from ISPs who largely operate with little competition anyway (2/3 of Americans only have one option for an ISP or none at all for speeds higher than 100Mbps.) This model is already in place in the shipping industry where you pay more to ship a package overnight than you do to ship via ground which takes several days.
In this Data Center Journal article, author Jeffrey Clark (who maintains a noticeable anti-regulation sentiment throughout the piece) wrote, “…net neutrality is an attempt at a government solution to government-created problems” and further posits that the more government regulates, the poorer service gets – see education and healthcare industries. Yet on the other side of the coin, Clark writes “did anyone notice any difference in their Internet experience during the roughly two years (2015-17) in which the FCC enforced net-neutrality regulation?” Who knows where this will all go but the one constant is that data center operators will be caught in the middle.
The consensus for data center operators?
Sit tight is the only advice being offered. This blog from ADVA Optical Networking speculates that the repeal of net neutrality will accelerate data center interconnect (DCI) spending, but DCI spending is projected to increase regardless. Some think that the repeal of net neutrality will cause companies to move their data to international data centers to avoid contact with American ISPs, which could mean bad news for the American data center industry.
It is impossible to determine what effects the net neutrality legislative battle will have on the data center industry, and on the American consumer in general until they happen. People on both sides of the net neutrality debate say that the other side’s calls for action will stifle innovation and economic growth. What we can be sure of now is that the debate is not over. The only thing we can do is watch the headlines and wait for the market to act on de-regulation and react in our business interests.
Do you have an opinion on how the repeal of net neutrality will affect your data usage or how it will affect data center operators? Please comment or forward to a colleague who might be interested in this topic.