This weekend, I had to deal with one of the greatest frustrations an online gamer can deal with: internet connection problems. I spent half of my raid time disconnecting and reconnecting, which was terribly fun. Then Monday, the internet went out entirely, and stayed off for 24 hours. Besides giving me a lot of free time to take care of things I haven't been able to recently, it also gave me time to reflect on how much the internet has become part of my daily life as a gamer.
There's no doubt that many of us, myself included, often take our internet access for granted. At times, it feels like a utility, even though it feeds off them. I couldn't even begin to explain to my provider that I needed the internet up as soon as possible so I could work, and that my work, at least partially, consists of playing games online. There's little respect for online gamers at ISPs, even though many of their employees are part of our growing group. The attitude is that the internet is a luxury, and we should be happy with the speed and service we get. It reminds me of all the times that my dad would tell me to be grateful for the dinner on my plate, and I better eat it because there were starving children in Ethiopia.
In an effort to be "fair to everyone," some companies, like Comcast, have already taken to limiting monthly bandwidth, while others like AT&T and Time Warner are looking into limiting it by tiers. This is often termed "acceptable use," and the idea proposed behind it is that some customers of the ISP use "too much" of the available bandwidth, causing the service for other users to be poor. As such, ISPs have decided to step in and make their own rules as to what home users should and can use the internet for, and what they shouldn't. Usually, ISPs pick on customers using peer-to-peer services, streaming high definition media, and those clearly running some sort of massive business behind their lines, limiting or cutting off their service without providing them alternative options.
Online gamers generally pass just beyond the radar, but with the growing popularity of MMOs, the average home internet user's bandwidth is going to go up. There's a very real possibility we're next on the bandwidth black list, and there's little we as gamers can do.
Internet customers can raise their voices and complain, but have little power because there's no real laws in place to say that a certain amount has to be provided per month to each customer, or to set a limit on a maximum charge for a certain amount of usage. To have those laws, we need government interference. To have government interference invites other troubles - raised prices, taxes, fees, possible censorship, and so on the list goes depending on your political distrust and leanings.
As gamers, we're caught in a bit of a tricky situation when it comes to putting the words 'government' and 'internet' in the same sentence. On one hand, there's the issue of wanting advocacy with power behind it. Universal broadband would be nice too, so that everyone has the ability to access a fast, reliable connection in an open market. On the other hand, we want as little interference in our gaming lives as possible, that wonderful concept of Net Neutrality where we don't get charged extra or discriminated against for our online activities, whether it's by ISPs or another organization. Unfortunately, it seems a popular opinion that in order for a service to be protected by law, it must also regulate the way in which the people use the service - that is, that we must trade in privacy for protection.
It may not seem like a big deal to online gamers yet. That's why the ECA runs targeted campaigns for gamers about these issues. I'll admit that politics are a sticky issue, and one that is happily fled from by most gamers who are misunderstood by bureaucrats. It's that very fact that we're misunderstood, however, that makes the issue of gamer advocacy so important. I don't know about you, but I don't want to wake up one morning to find an extra bill for online gaming or worse, not be able to log in because playing games no longer is considered "acceptable" by my provider.
I'm not trying to soapbox and tell you to go and join the ECA or you're going to lose your right to game on the Internet, nor am I asking you to go knock on your Senator's office and tell them you'll do something drastic if you don't have a good connection when you go to raid Icecrown Citadel. Just take a moment to think about how your ISP treats you as a customer, and how they feel about your gaming taking up precious bandwidth. You might be surprised at how little your business really means.