Forget Comcast vs Netflix! Never mind Yahoo vs Google! Those behemoths can afford to slug it out until time itself comes to an end. The real scary scenario in the absence of net neutrality is this: Access for the rest of us. To “translate” this into a world that even my luddite relatives can understand, imagine this:
You support progressive candidate John Smith. You want to call Mr. Smith’s office and offer him support. So you pick up your kitchen telephone and dial up Mr. Smith’s campaign headquarters. The person on the other end answers “Jones for Congress! May I help you?”
You pull back the handset and give it a bewildered stare. You raise it to your ear again and say “Sorry, I think I misdialed,” and hang up. You check the number and give it another try.
This time, instead of ringing, you hear a message: “This is XYZ Telco. A one dollar charge will be added to your telephone bill to connect you to this number. To accept, please press 1.”
You are outraged, of course! You call XYZ Telco’s customer support, only to learn that legally, XYZ Telco can do this. The FCC has just declared that the telephone companies are no longer a common carrier, and can use the free market to make a profit. Never mind that your only “market-based alernative” as a consumer is a cell phone company that just might give you service if you stand in the northeast corner of your driveway and hold your iPhone up over your head with the speaker turned on so you can have a shouting conversation with candidate Smith’s office staff. Inconvenient, yes. Downright impossible for some. But HEY! It’s America! Land of the free market and home of the Bravo network (available for an additional $9.95 a month). No one’s stopping you from changing phone companies, even if your only other choice won’t really work for you if you’re in a wheelchair or have 6 feet of snow in your driveway. It’s still free choice! Conservatives rest their case.
Now just replace “XYZ Telco” with “Comcast Cable” or “Frontier” or whatever company has a lock on providing reasonably speedy internet service to your address. Now imagine trying to access candidate Smith’s website, and getting rerouted to Jones4Congress.com. Or imagine trying to navigate to Progressives.org, and having to watch a “Vote for Jones” ad first. Or even having to agree that if you go to www.thomhartmann.com, you can expect to see an extra $2 on your internet service bill, please click “OK” to proceed, or “No thanks” to be taken instead to foxnews.com for free. How many people would throw up their hands and forget about the whole mess?
And that’s what the “free market” opponents of net neutrality are banking on. Literally.