The Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit today struck down the FCC’s attempt to enshrine ‘net neutrality’ principles in law. Net neutrality is like much nanny state policy – it seems like a great idea on the surface, but when you dive in, it’s a giant mess. Today’s decision is a big win for online gamers.
Net neutrality, in theory, simply means that no Internet traffic may be given preference over another. ISPS were barred from, for instance, prioritizing video traffic over email creating what is referred to as “a dumb pipe”. Further, the laws prevented any content provider – say Netflix or Blizzard – from purchasing better delivery from the ISPs.
Again, this sounds perfectly fine assuming you know ABSOLUTELY nothing about the way networks manage traffic. The problem for gamers in particular is their susceptibility to the effects of jitter and latency. Every gamer understands the concept of lag. If you have ever played an online game you will have noticed the effects of lag as your opponents movements appear choppy or halted. They’ll move sporadically around the screen or you will freeze up momentarily (and likely die).
Net neutrality exacerbates this problem by prohibiting ISPs from prioritizing video game traffic and making it compete with spam, YouPorn, Facebook posts. or any of myriad other sources of noise on the wire. The game for which you need a high-qulity, stable connection is forced to duke it out with traffic that has no such requirement. Delaying that incoming email for a split second has no impact on the email. But delaying a game bit can mean the difference between a frag and death by stupid.
For gamers, this news could not possibly be better.
Now proponents of net neutrality would argue that this opens the door for ISPs to charge content providers a premium for better service. What will happen, they argue, if EA pays up to guarantee Battlefield players a decent ride, but Activision shorts Call of Duty? Or what happens if Xbox inks a deal to prioritize its traffic, but Sony doesn’t give similar love to the PlayStation fans?
That’s unlikely to happen. Even if it did, game title success depends on happy players. It would not be long before such errors were corrected to keep up with gamer satisfaction.