After the president announced his plan to ensure net neutrality by reclassifying broadband providers as utilities, my inbox predictably got flooded with hysterical missives from carriers who are warning that forcing them to abide by net neutrality rules would completely destroy the Internet as we know it. Soon afterward, many congressmen and senators started piling on and declaring that this new net neutrality plan was an “Obamacare for the Internet,” as Texas Republican Ted Cruz put it.
If things keep playing out this way, then everyone in America will soon see this story as one of the government wanting to control a vital industry just for the sake of exerting its own power. This would be tragic because net neutrality isn’t really an issue of government-versus-business so much as it’s an issue of business-versus-business.
Or more specifically, it’s an issue of whether one kind of business can use its unique economic leverage to extract added rents from another type of business in exchange for giving its traffic priority treatment, which would also put smaller tech companies that can’t afford “fast lane” fees at a permanent disadvantage.
The good news here is that there are many high-profile businesses who have claimed in the past to support strong net neutrality rules since they’re not eager to pay ISPs extra tolls in exchange for preferential treatment. And by “high-profile,” I’m referring to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and many, many more.
If any plan to implement net neutrality regulations is to survive the barrage of propaganda that’s going to be leveled against it, then these tech firms need to speak up and make their voices heard on this matter right now and explain to their users why net neutrality is so important to the future of the online economy.
And let’s be clear: If these companies came together to put even a fraction of the effort into supporting net neutrality that the big telcos and cable companies are putting into killing net neutrality, then they would almost certainly win in the court of public opinion.
Why? Because most tech companies are loved by their customers while most wireless and (especially) cable companies are not. In a battle over public trust, the people who bring you your iPhone, your Xbox, Google Maps and Amazon Prime are going to demolish the people who slap you with overage fees for exceeding monthly data caps and who employ customer service representatives that are only slightly less terrifying than Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.
So now is the time to start putting your considerable money where your mouths are, tech companies. Because if you don’t, you’ll soon be cursing your fate every time you have to pay Comcast a paid prioritization fee to ensure your traffic gets delivered as quickly as your rivals’ does.