Left Arrow News

Time for Some Traffic Problems… In Your Video Games!

17 Feb 2014

By the Anti-Censorship Committee of the International Game Developers Association

Imagine you are playing an online game. You are so close to victory you can taste it. Suddenly your game starts stuttering and pausing. Triumph turns to bitter defeat. Death by lag.

You call your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to complain about their lousy service. But the support rep cheerfully explains that the lag is not a bug, it’s a feature.

You see, the developers of your game didn’t agree to pay the ISP an extra monthly fee, so the ISP closed most of the lanes carrying the game’s Internet traffic. Instead of playing such a slow game, why don’t you play a game from one of the companies paying extra fees to the ISP? Oh, and you might want to use the online movie site owned by the ISP, because from now on your favorite video site will look like a flipbook.

And by the way, since you called to complain, you have been added to the ISP’s list of problem customers. You’ll have to pay an additional fee or on some days you’ll find traffic cones blocking your high-speed access lanes and your broadband will crawl like dialup.

And if you want to switch to another ISP? Good luck with that if you are among the majority of Americans with no choice in ISPs due to cable monopolies and the anti-competitive war against community-owned broadband. If a pro-net neutrality ISP somehow actually appears, your ISP could block their website and drop your Internet phone calls to them. They could even secretly block everyone from reading this article. It’s all perfectly legal now, thanks to a recent ruling by a US federal appeals court.

The FCC rules requiring “net neutrality” have now been struck down. ISPs may legally return to their old practices of secretly sniffing your data and degrading any part of it they want to, with or without your knowledge. The appeals court ruled in favor of Verizon, which has been previously caught violating FCC open internet rules.

In a carefully worded statement, Verizon tried to reassure everyone that they “will not change consumers’ ability to access and use the internet as they do now.”

Did you catch how Verizon limited that to “consumers”? What they fail to say is they won’t change the ability of businesses to access and use the internet without paying additional fees. This is a clear burden to game developers and could be fatal to small independent game companies. Even if you are a game developer in a nation like Israel which passed laws requiring net neutrality, your access to American customers could require payments to all the US ISPs if you don’t want internet traffic problems in your game.

This problem has been illustrated by Netflix, which has complained about Comcast violating net neutrality in the past. And some people report significant degraded access to Netflix just after the ruling. Verizon denies this claim, but AT&T just filed a patent for a new way to scrutinize and snarl your data. And the stock market concluded that the assurances of the ISPs are untrustworthy by selling off Netflix after the court ruling.

Even the court that overturned net neutrality on a technical point agreed that the FCC should have authority to regulate ISPs, because ISPs “represent a threat to internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.”

For over a century, this openness has been mandated by law for highways, railroads, canals, and more. These laws also apply to phone networks and have applied to data communications for over 150 years, starting with laws requiring telegraph messages be “impartially transmitted.”

When it comes to roads and bridges, just about everyone in the world recognizes that it is wrong for anyone to deliberately obstruct traffic in for their own benefit. A wide range of groups on the left and right agree that the same rules should apply when the traffic is online, but powerful business interests think that deliberately obstructing traffic for profit is a great idea. The American Civil Liberties Union calls this “one of the foremost free speech issues of our time.”

Congress and the FCC need to protect the open internet and free competition. Will Congress vote to allow the FCC to restore net neutrality? Gamers and game developers joined with other online communities to protect internet freedom from SOPA and PIPA by pressuring lawmakers to back down and change their votes.

If those lawmakers don’t protect net neutrality, will gamers punish them at the voting booth? Will protecting our open internet be the issue that finally galvanizes gamers into a massive voting bloc?

Or are we doomed to suffer politically-created traffic problems in our online movies, services, and games whenever the powerful want to inflict them on us?

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