Net neutrality is anything but

Ryan Lewis, Editor

Net neutrality isn’t so neutral out here in west Michigan.

So, when a U.S. appeals court Tuesday announced it had killed the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules... well, that means most consumers are now at the whim of their Internet overlords.

I understand, in broad terms, what’s being fought. Cable companies will be the highway in what is certain to become a strained metaphor. Companies like Twitter and Facebook and Netflix are vehicles. Passengers are customers.

Net neutrality is a concept that says the guys providing the highway have to let everyone use their highway equitably.

Remember, however, that the highways are now making cars, too—Comcast, for example, would love nothing more than to have all of its customers get all of their movies streamed through their own on-demand systems and not Netflix.

And that’s why it gets tricky. If internet providers get to put up the traffic signals and make the rules, they can force rivals to pay a premium to use their network. Or block them altogether. Again, back to the strained metaphor: the guys who built the highway can tell some cars they can only use the slow lane, while others, who paid a premium (I have no idea how an automobile pays a fine... just skip over that), get to use the fast lane. Or it can just ban all the F-150’s and allow only midsized cars on the road.

What I’ve gathered from the same-day reporting on this is that allowing that sort of thing to happen turns the consumers over to the free market for help. Which can be great when there’s a market.

Here, not so much. I’m not sure customers in the more rural areas of the country have more than one option for broadband Internet access. So, if their provider decides to block Netflix or their favorite website, they’re out of luck.

That’s what I mean when I say net neutrality isn’t neutral; it isn’t a non-stance—it’s our only stance right now that gives us a shot at getting the services we want.

I’m hopeful this will now proceed to the Supreme Court and be reversed or that the FCC will take other actions that force the Internet providers to just let me get what I want. I don’t pity these corporations the burden of regulation. They enjoy relative monopolies and have their way with Congress in plenty of other ways.

If there were two or three real competitors in most spots, I’m not so sure I’d be able to lay the foundation of my argument there.

I still would not like it, however. It’s bad enough my cable provider forces me to choose between having a handful of basic stations for a reasonable price and gobs of stations I don’t want—but one or two I do want—for an outrageous price.

And that’s my basic point. They already have us under their thumb. Why are the courts allowing them to squish us?

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