First, addressing a few misconceptions about Net Neutrality:
- I like my Internet as it is! I don’t want the government messing with it!
Your Internet was built on a policy of Net Neutrality. The ISPs (Comcast, AT&T, etc.) are trying to change this. If you like it the way it is, you should support Net Neutrality.
- Net Neutrality gives too much power to the government.
While it does make the government a regulator, Net Neutrality actually limits the government’s power over Internet speeds as much as anyone else’s. Without Net Neutrality, those in power can feasibly find a way to slow down any sites that they do not like. Even if they cannot do it directly through government agencies, they can do it indirectly through their corporate contacts, who do have the ability to effectively kill websites at will.
- Net Neutrality will limit Internet access to minorities.
The basis for this argument is the idea that, by allowing ISPs to tap an additional revenue stream by charging publishers in addition to consumers, we make it more feasible for them to give free Internet to people – especially people in poor urban areas. Poor people may have to look at some advertisements, but at least they will get Internet access, right? There are numerous problems with this idea. First, there is still no guarantee that the ISPs will give anyone free Internet. Second, even if they did, they would not focus on demographics too poor to pay for their own Internet service, as such demographics would be of little value to the advertisers who would ultimately be paying for all of this. Third, the moral argument for giving Internet access to the poor – that is, giving them access to an unfettered source of information that will allow them to take an active role in public policy issues, etc. – is lost, as you have just handed the “free” flow of information over to corporate Internet overlords who are in bed with corrupt politicians.
So here is your nightmare scenario:
- Politicians accept campaign contributions from ISPs with the understanding that they will kill Net Neutrality.
- Politicians kill Net Neutrality.
- The ISPs continue to contribute to the campaigns of those politicians who are so nice as to help them create this new revenue stream.
- The ISPs demand hefty sums from all Internet publishers who want their content to actually be viewed. Small independent publishers who cannot come up with the cash see their speeds crash and their traffic evaporate.
- The ISPs also demand that their friends in Washington help them to solidify their regional monopolies through policy, allowing them to charge outrageous fees for slow Internet service and ridiculous customer service.
- Political challengers see what is happening and decide to do something about it.
- The incumbent politicians see the danger and tell their ISP friends that they need help.
- The ISPs slow down all sites criticizing them, their politician friends, or the status quo to the point that these sites cannot even be viewed.
- The ISPs leverage their contacts in Washington to push through a series of mergers to create a single national monopoly on Internet service.
- The people can only see the content that the ISPs want them to see.
- The ISPs sell this new-found influence over the public mind to the highest bidder – while protecting their investments in Washington by keeping their buddies in office. The Internet’s identity as the greatest democratized source of information in the history of the world is now virtually a thing of the past.