As I’m writing this, we don’t know yet if the government will roll back its net-neutrality regulations. This uncertainty doesn’t bother me, because either way, I and all other internet users will be screwed.
Net-neutrality defenders have laid out the ways corporations could screw us if net neutrality is repealed. I find their doomsaying easy to believe, because those corporations have already proven they’ll do whatever they can get away with to give the least service for the most money.
Take my mobile carrier, please. It’s Verizon, which has a history of disconnecting people who don’t limit their use of unlimited data plans, but that’s a story for another day. I don’t come anywhere near the undisclosed data limit (unless they’ve lowered it again), but I can’t use my phone as a mobile hotspot. When I try, I get a popup about “subscription status” and the connected device gets no internet .
(Tell me again, O net-neutrality defenders, how deregulation will allow selective throttling and blocking in the future.)
So that’s the case for keeping the status quo: corporations will screw us. They might charge extra for your favorite streaming video service, or favor some apps and brands ober others, or make it harder to get to some web pages. But sooner or later, your ISP will do something to make you deeply unhappy.
Proponents of deregulation have told us it’ll bring us innovation, infrastructure investment, healthy competition, rainbows, and butterflies. Given what we know about the cost of infrastructure, the difficulty of innovation, and the character of the corporate greed-heads involved, I’m skeptical. If I was pushing for net-neutrality deregulation, I’d base my campaign on a short, simple truth:
Regulators can’t be trusted.
Net-neutrality regulations haven’t been around long enough for regulators to grow (1) comfortable enough to abuse them and (2) careless enough to let the public know about it, so we’ll have to look to other regulated industries for examples of abuse.
Take television, for instance. My favorite example of TV-related regulatory abuse was when Ted Kennedy slipped something into an unrelated bill restricting the FCC’s ability to grant temporary waivers to one of its rules about TV-station ownership. Why? Because Rupert Murdoch got a couple of those waivers, and the then-Murdoch-owned Boston Herald was annoying Kennedy, so hey, why not force Murdoch to sell the Herald? That’s what political power is for. (Murdoch sold his Boston TV station instead, to spite Kennedy.)
And then there’s banking, and Operation Choke Point, a DOJ program allegedly aimed at fraud and money laundering or, as it turned out, a DOJ program to keep law-abiding people in legal industries the regulators disapproved of from using any financial services.
And international shipping. If you don’t remember the Gibson Guitar case, in which the feds pretended to enforce Madagascar’s export laws in a way Madagascar’s government felt the need to publicly denounce, then you’re probably happier for not wasting attention on it. It wasn’t in the top 40 Obama administration scandals, so your ignorance of that squalid little episode doesn’t even interfere with your understanding of politics.
So even if net-neutrality regulations haven’t been abused yet, it’s only a matter of time. Also, the way the regulation was written and implemented apparently opens the door for new internet taxes (in the style of telephone taxes), so we might have that to look forward to.
In summary, the net neutrality debate is about who gets to control your internet speed — corporate executives or federal regulators. Neither group can be trusted, and either (or, most likely, both) will try to screw us all. So both sides’ partisans should tone down the rhetoric a bit, because neither side is really worth fighting for.