This month's "Game Theory" column for Maximum PC has generated some wider interest, but it is not yet on the magazine's site. Since I've been asked to make it available, Max PC has allowed to me to publish a slightly longer version here.
“FCC seeks internet control” was one of the main themes of tech reporting in 2010. The first thing that surprised me was that an agency created in the 1930s to regulate the radio spectrum was attempting to exert their nonexistent authority over the entire internet.
The second thing that surprised me was that the FCC continues to exist at all. Like the Federal Reserve and the Departments of Education, Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Health & Human Services, it’s a useless, self-perpetuating bureaucracy that does more harm than good. The courts have already told the FCC where to step off, but the Obama administration won’t let it rest.
This is no place to hash out the arguments for and against so-called “net neutrality.” Simply put: I’m agin’ it. It’s one of those things that sounds perfectly reasonable (we need to protect open access to the internet!), but in fact addresses a nonexistent problem.
Worse, it just let’s the camel’s nose under the tent. In this case, the nose is the FCC and their regulatory power, and the tent is the entire internet. If you think the 5 appointed political hacks on the Commission are just the people to tame the wild internet, then your naïveté is kind of sweet. It’s also infantile.
But how does any of this impact gaming, you may ask?
Well, online gamers may well be targeted as “bandwidth hogs” as ISPs try to accommodate growing demands for bandwidth. The rapidly increasing demands for streaming video and online gaming are certainly going to require a better infrastructure. Free enterprise will realize there is a buck to be made, and step in to increase that capacity, or restructure their fees so that people who use more pay more.
I’m fine with that. I don’t see why my parents’ household (which uses their internet access mostly to forward chain letters and long-debunked urban legends) should pay exactly the same fees as mine (which regularly hoovers up a couple hours of Netflix and a few more of online gaming per day).
In truth, games aren’t a vast bandwidth drain. Some estimates put World of Warcraft, for example, at less than 5MB per hour, and a little higher when more characters are involved in an event. A shooter, however, might eat anywhere from 40MB to 300MB per hour, depending on the game, size of the session, and other factors.
Government regulation cannot increase the bandwidth we need for our games. Only private industry can do that, and the one thing guaranteed to slow that growth is more regulation.