I know that American politics is the last thing you want to read about here, and believe me it’s also the last thing I want to be writing about, but unfortunately, this is an issue that directly affects us as a community - whether or not you’re personally in the US.
What is Net Neutrality?
For those that don’t know, Net Neutrality means that an ISP (eg. Comcast, Verizon, etc.) must treat all data as equal. They’re not allowed to prioritise websites they like, and they’re not allowed to block access to sites they don’t like.
This principe is integral to the success of the internet, and without it, most of the sites you use today wouldn’t exist - including this one.
Why does it matter to us?
When Kazamatsuri was first launched, it was just me, @Aspirety and a shitty $10/mo VPS. We were both broke students and swamped with coursework, but we still found time to work on it. Aspi covered the running costs out of pocket, even as they went up by many times that $10/mo that we started with.
We did this because Kaza was important to us. As important as it no doubt is to many of you. And the wonderful thing about the internet is that if enough people really want something to happen, they can make it happen. We all wanted a place to talk about KEY, so we made one - not just us two, all of us, together. Then we did it again, this time a sister site about 07th Expansion, Rokkenjima.
But here’s where I’m getting with all of this.
For all the time and passion we’ve all poured into both of these sites, for all the friendships and memories these two communities have created, there’s one thing we didn’t - and still don’t - have: money.
We don’t have wealthy investors. We don’t have a source of revenue. We don’t lock anything behind paywalls, or even run ads. We have a Patreon that keeps us afloat, and we invest all the money we make back into running this site, and into fun events for all of us.
(Well, Aspi did once buy me a pizza, but he did ask everyone else first!)
Every month, we serve over 8 million HTTP requests, totalling over 400GB every month. Significantly more during busier months.
We jumped on an experimental bit of forum software back when it was still in beta because we thought it looked rad. We use orchestration technology developed at Google to manage our servers. We built our own custom CMS and loaded it full of every trick in the book to make pages run faster. We spend most of our money on beefy hardware to make sure we can keep up with all the traffic we get.
And the only reason we can do all of this, is because of laws like Net Neutrality, that guarantee that a small group like us can play by the same rules as giants like Facebook and Netflix.
I’m still not sure it’d be so bad…
According to Google Analytics, the US accounts for roughly 33% of all sessions on the Kazamatsuri forums and 26% of the sessions on the Rokkenjima forums.
US ISPs want a world in which they can freely do two things:
Charge sites for higher priority, meaning they would load faster for users. The sites that don’t pay this “fast lane toll” could be slowed down, be subjected to bandwidth caps, or even blocked completely, completely at the ISPs’ discretion.
Charge users for access to certain sites, or for faster access to them, then turn right back around and charge the sites themselves for the privilege of being offered as a paid addon.
In this scenario, we would have two choices.
If we stayed in the slow lane, we didn’t pay the toll, the site could be loading as if you were using a dialup modem. Using it would become frustrating. Activity from the US would dwindle because using a site that takes several seconds to load is infuriating. We can’t afford to potentially lose 1/4 to 1/3 of our friends like that.
But there’s no goddamn way we can afford to bribe every US ISP. They’d be able to ask any amount of us, they could raise it at any time, and we’d have no choice but to oblige. We’d have to downgrade our hardware, look for a cheaper CDN, ask for more money, maybe even run ads. This would be our equivalent of paying the Yakuza for “protection”, and that’s not even accounting for the rate hike we’d no doubt see from every single third party we talk to who also has to pay this same toll.
Comcast and Verizon want to create a world in which the internet is only for those with money. Not for enthusiasts. Not for friends. Because they want money from Facebook, from Netflix, from Google. And they don’t care if they trample smaller sites like us in the process.
Please, those of you in a position to influence this, even a little bit: don’t let them.