A fundamental principle of the Internet is that all hosts are peers, that is, there is nothing fundamentally different about your laptop or Time magazine’s web serving computers: each is a computer; each can run the same software and communicate in the same way; neither is privileged over the other.
Net neutrality is an important implication of this principle. Basically, all hosts on the Internet have the same access to resources as any other host. That doesn’t mean that one can’t charge people for different types of access (e.g. online subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal), but it does mean that one can’t forbid some hosts from trying to talk to you while allowing others to do the same.
The big entertainment corporations hate the idea of net neutrality, as it means that they actually have to convince their customers to purchase their wares; they prefer a model like basic cable, where every subscriber pays for BET or Nickelodeon regardless of whether he wants it. They would like to form ‘partnerships’ with ISPs, charging all of an ISP’s customer in order to provide content that only a few use.
Disney is the first to actually go ahead with this. It doesn’t matter whether or not I want to use their sports website (let’s put it this way: I have never watched a sports game on my computer, and I don’t expect to ever watch a sports game on my computer); my ISP is paying Disney no matter what — much as a shopkeeper might pay a mafioso — and thus I am paying Disney a little bit of money every month.
Note that this has nothing to do with sports. It could be a service I like — maybe something about homebrewing, or about politics, or whatever: it’s outright wrong to sell access at the ISP level rather than at the customer level.
Although it is rather neat that this involves Disney. Another online commentator noted that ‘Disney is to culture what thyroid cancer is to metabolism.’ It’s appropriate that The Mouse be behind this latest instance of a monopolist abusing its position.