There are empty threats, really empty threats, and threats so empty they could qualify as a black hole. You can get an idea of that last category in a recent Wired piece titled “10 Percent of Americans Would Quit the Internet if Net Neutrality Dies”. It begins:
Everyone from Comcast to the courts to government regulators should take heed: People want their internet service provider to treat all online traffic equally.
According to a survey recently published by Consumer Reports, 71 percent of internet users would switch to another service provider if their ISP violated network neutrality — the notion that no internet traffic should receive preferential treatment over other traffic. Ten percent of respondents even said they would be willing to give up internet altogether before putting up with throttled connections.
Do you believe those 10 percent? No of course you don’t, and I don’t imagine Comcast does either. But it’s even problematic for those rebellious 71 percent, as the piece later acknowledges by adding “But there’s a big wrinkle here: Users would need a competing service to actually move to, and options are limited in most cities.” Yes, but it isn’t just cities that lack broadband options.
I haven’t thought much about, and have written even less on net neutrality, not because it isn’t important, it is, as the debates surrounding it may well shape what the Internet looks and operates like a few years from now. It’s because I don’t see much reason to think that that future is going to be shaped by anything but large content and Internet service providers, their armies of lobbyist, and pages of FCC bylaws they manage to write. It isn’t going to be determined by users with their empty threats and few to nonexistent alternatives.
And after all, it’s not even clear that users understand net neutrality or could spot a violation if they did, as “…the complex nature of the internet and the way it dovetails with other communication systems means that violations of net neutrality aren’t always easy to pin down.”, another quote from the piece.
It may seem unduly pessimistic or downright irresponsible to essentially cede the debate, but was there ever any territory to cede in the first place? While it might have a pleasantly people power feel to it to warn the powerful players to “take heed”, the threat looks rather empty. It’s surely better to look on that fact as realism, rather than pessimism. Wouldn’t the first step towards attaining power be seeing through the illusion that you currently have any?