Archive for August, 2017

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Electricity Neutrality

A recent survey showed that 72% of consumers don’t understand what Net Neutrality is. Here’s a simple explanation. It starts with a comparison…

Electricity Neutrality

It’s 2023 and you’re just moved into your new home. Spared no expense. You unbox the new iToaster you ordered online. It’s got all the latest features, including Bluetooth. You plug it into the outlet, drop in two slices of multigrain, and hit the brightly-colored Start button on the LCD display.

Instead of warming up, it displays an error message.

‘Sorry, this appliance has not been approved by your Electric Power Provider. Please tap your credit card to the sensor to pay $0.25 per use to continue.’

That’s when you notice the sleek plastic face of the iToaster actually contains a smart-card reader. Only certain brands of toasters—those whose companies made sweetheart deals with the electric company—work without additional hassle and expense.

Is this a world you’d want to live in? “Electric Power Providers” sure would, if they could get away with it. There’s great business potential in double-billing: they could continue to charge by the kilowatt-hour as they already do, AND on top of that exact huge sums from every appliance and device maker on the planet. And the manufactures would be desperate to avoid having their product crippled.

So great for the Electric Power Providers. But how would you feel as a consumer? How much would appliance makers have to raise prices just to break even? And do you think innovation and experimentation would flourish in such an environment?

Electricity Neutrality isn’t a topic of discussion (yet) because the electric grid isn’t “smart” enough to make it possible. But the internet grid, pretty much by definition, is. New business models become possible with new technology. But just because a business model becomes available, it isn’t necessarily a good idea to adopt it.

Change a few words in this story, and it describes Net Neutrality, which can often be difficult to get across. Net Neutrality means that—like how electricity works today—all usage is metered at a consistent price, no matter what devices or services are involved. Providers don’t get to pick-and-choose the end-user experience by making side deals.

Hopefully this analogy helps make it clearer. So with what you understand now, what do you think? Should your electric company get this kind of control over devices attached to it? Should your internet service provider? -m

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