algebraicthunk.net/ blog/ entry/ Explaining Network Neutrality

One of the problems with network neutrality is that people outside the technology industry often can't follow the arguments back and forth because of the complexity of the terms involved. On my vacation last week, I found myself discussing this topic with my ~80-year-old grandparents. Now, Grandpa and Grandma have no clue about technology, but they aren't dumb; they are both retired educators and follow current events (especially politics) with a strong interest. In my effort to explain just what the fuss is about, I had a sudden brainstorm and came up with the following analogy, which I post here for anyone who cares to use it:

Imagine that your power company decides that it wanted to open a line of supermarkets. At the same time, it sends out an announcement that supermarkets (due to their refrigeration requirements) are particularly heavy users of the electrical system, and as a result, the power company will add a 15% surcharge to the power bills of any building that it deems to be a supermarket. Of course, the power company's own supermarkets are exempt from this fee. When the existing supermarkets complain, the power company says that they're asking for special treatment and trying to get electricity "for free" and that if they don't like its terms, they should buy their power from someone else.

Obviously this greatly simplifies the technical issues involved, but it's the best illustration of at least one aspect of the problem that I've been able to come up with. I've enabled comments for this post, so feel free to add your own suggestions.

Comment by Decklin Foster at 1:28 PM:

I like this one.

Comment by Anonymous at 1:16 AM:

Unfortunately, your analogy describes a reality that hasn't even been proposed and therefore isn't accurate.

What would be more accurate to say is that the power company has to continually add more infrastructure to keep up with the increasing electricity use by everyone (likened to Bandwidth in this case). Normally the power company increases the price of electricity across the board for every customer to pay for this but noticed that some customers are utilizing most of their infrastructure. Therefore, they decided to charge the heaviest users (beneficiaries in this case) rather than charging everyone. Additionally, the power companies also own some Supermarkets so there is a conflict of interest in their new plan.

Many won't like this more-accurate modification of your analogy simply because the power company doesn't seem quite as evil.

Comment by Anonymous at 4:32 PM:

I think your analogy properly illustrates why I'm not convinced net neutrality is an issue.

If a power company would try to strongarm it's way into the highly competitive supermarket industry by overcharging its competitors for electricity, they would simply lose a big customer to one of their competitors that is not run by insane idiots.

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