This is a complicated one. The very term "net neutrality" is loaded with baggage and preconceptions, but I think those of us in the hinterlands have a big stake in this perplexing debate. Here's some background that helped inform my not-so-firm decision.
- As is becoming the usual case, Vox has a great beginner's course on net neutrality.
- Gaming the Title II rules. The shifty way Verizon alternated between rules for broadband and telephone service when it suited them.
- What's at stake today in the FCC announcement.
Hurtling to my bottom line: The FCC should treat broadband as a common carrier, not as broadband. In other words, they should disallow fast lanes and continue to regulate this industry.
- I no longer believe there is any concept of "the common good" in the boardrooms of America. What traditions we used to have of serving the public and moral responsibility have been eroded by voracious investors wanting immediate results in next quarter's results. This is a rule with exceptions, but is the safest assumption to begin with. I have no doubt Verizon/Comcast would screw the consumer in a heartbeat without looking back. Wall Street doesn't care about Rural Route 2.
- Rural Americans have the most to lose here. It is only because of admittedly inefficient and costly regulations we have stuff like electricity and roads and phones now. De-regulating carriers would allow them to ignore us more than they do currently. I realize I have campaigned for free markets in our industry, but dairy and sugar don't need infrastructure to deliver them to our homes, so I consider them apples to the Internet orange. There are some few services and products that cannot withstand increasingly rapacious unfettered profit-seeking freedom.
- Verizon, et al will doubtless find their way around any net neutrality rules to offer fast pipes to those who pay anyway.With rules in place I think consumers have a better chance of getting at least workable service while they do build out for big content suppliers.
- Our Internet is national embarrassment. Why reward the people who have made gazillions constructing this mish-mash service by allowing them to rack up even higher profits for no value to most consumers? I would entertain some compromise that would address telecom concerns in exchange for them meeting performance benchmarks and dates in the future. Why not offer to allow fast lanes if we can be in the Top 5 instead of #35, for example, or some other measurable parameter of Internet quality by specified dates?
- The Internet is one great "equalizer" that doesn't need redistributive taxes or any other horrors that inflame the hard right. Indeed the far right has built its conspiracy industry on the Internet. Of all the things to leave to the tender mercies of Big Telecom I should think this would be the last in conservative eyes. [OK, this is snark, but there is some truth in it] There is a hidden cost to regulation but I think it is almost always exaggerated and once baked into business plans can be mitigated by shrewd management decisions.
- Google has given me enormous amounts of free stuff and changed my life. Verizon gives me expensive and sluggish broadband. Whose side should I be on?
I will revisit this post after I dope out the announcement today. But tragically enough, the above reasons are the best I can come up with to inform the debate for those of us in rural America.