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An Indie MMO's perspective on Network Neutrality

I generally avoid posting about any political issues, as I see my role as creating an environment for the entertainment and escape of our players.

However, today 80,000 different online sites and services are speaking out against the United States FCC's plans to eliminate Network Neutrality, and this issue directly bears on our ability to operate this game.

If Network Neutrality is removed, it will be harder for small companies like us to stay in business, delivering innovative new online games and services.

Basically, it places network providers in the position of "negotiating" which players can connect to what games or sites, and at what speeds or ping-times. You might buy "50mbit" service, but actually have a much slower and intentionally rate-limited connection to our game, and many others.

An example of this is when Time Warner Cable ("Spectrum") clamped down on League of Legends player-bandwidth during negotiations with Riot Games.

As a small indie that doesn't have the revenue of Riot, we cannot afford to pay every ISP for "special treatment". Frankly, it's enough of a burden for us just to host our game. Everything beyond our servers is supposed to be a flatly-billed "Internet". I can specifically speak to this, as a former engineer who helped create a sizable national Internet network (AS3857, AS4323) that's now a part of "Level 3 Communications".

On the end-user side, just look at when AT&T blocked Facetime on iPhones in 2012, demanding that users upgrade to a more expensive service package (even blocking their "unlimited data" subscribers).

There may well come a time when you go to connect to our game, or many others, and get a pop-up from your provider requiring you to buy a costly new "Gamer Internet" service package.

The argument from the large cable and telecom providers is that repealing Net Neutrality will allow them to better "re-invest" in their infrastructure. But big shops like AT&T have a pretty spotty history of actually improving infrastructure the way they claim (especially with limited competition), while also killing municipal broadband in rural areas (even when they don't serve those areas), and gleefully fighting to collect and sell your personal internet usage information.

Fundamentally, it's unlikely any of these big providers will substantially "re-invest" in their network infrastructure while their profit margins are incredibly high, they lack serious competitive threats, and they don't see a clear value for their high-cost investment. Why bother giving you gigabit internet for $60/month when they can charge you the same price for a dozen megabits, without having to change their network? There's no reason for them to start spending their profits, with or without Network Neutrality. They'll continue to make "show" upgrades in a few locations, and announce them loudly, but mostly the infrastructure stays the same.

The issue can seem pretty confusing to an outsider. I mean, the planned FCC rollback is called "Restoring Internet Freedom". Who can't get behind a name like that? Similarly, AT&T is now (hilariously) claiming their "support", plus there's a long history of using dubious means of getting outside groups to help kill Network Neutrality, while basically making it sound like the opposite.

This confusion by the telecom/cable lobbies is strategic and intentional. But to be clear, the internet is supposed to be largely flat, and not charge you different fees based on where your traffic goes. The only realistic way to keep providers from trying to do this, is to keep the Network Neutrality rules in place.

Don't get me wrong, running an ISP is complex and challenging, with technology and usage that are constantly evolving.. but that does not excuse fundamentally screwing up what makes the Internet a great thing in the first place.

If you would like to comment on the FCC's planned policy changes, you can follow the link below, and click on the "+Express" link. There are only a few days left to comment:


- John "Incarnate" Bergman, Founder and CEO of Guild Software.