Not everything has to be mandatory
Back in the days of dial-up, my mother-in-law had a really cheap ISP service. She didn't pay very much, and the ISP put ads on top of everything. There was some kind of ad bar at the bottom of the browser no matter what site she was on. But the ads didn't bother her and she wanted a cheap service. They bothered me whenever I used internet when visiting at her place, but I wasn't the one paying for it.
It was totally legal to have that. Did every ISP do it? No. Just that one. Everybody else signed up with other ISPs and didn't have that - just the normal ads. But imagine if it had been banned, then somebody proposed removing the ban. It's easy to imagine horror stories about every ISP doing that, until you think through the logic of it.
In those days I was using NetZero and Juno, when I couldn't scam yet another month on my free AOL trial subscription.
NetZero got a patent for "monitoring the on-line activities of an on-line user ... as a basis for targeting advertisements" and the ads were horrible. The service was awful. They required some crapware on the client machine to run. Playing multiplayer StarCraft using Juno was an exercise in frustration, the disconnect always happened at the worst time.
But it was free, and I had no budget for better service. I wanted better service, but my willingness to pay was zero. I would have preferred that my ISP not spray me with ads, but I was not willing to pay for this. Businesses do not respond to what customers say they want, they respond to what customers are willing to pay for. If you say you want Amazon to treat employees better, but you are not willing to pay more to shop elsewhere, Amazon has little reason to change.
Net Neutrality advocates seem mostly concerned with two things, privacy and access. They don't want to be tracked or suffer targeted advertising, and they want to be able to do whatever they want with an internet connection, with no throttling or separate fees for specific services.
NetZero still offers free dialup internet service, made possible by advertising.
ISPs don't want to track your browsing. It's more work for them to keep accurate records of online activity. They do so because they have customers – advertisers – who are willing to pay.
When you look for a job, you advertise yourself, sending out resumes. Naturally you do research and focus on employers that you think will be interested in the skills you have to offer. When thenewgreen started a business, he also made efforts to connect with the target audience rather than promoting indiscriminately.
Customers willing to tolerate having their browsing tracked can get a discount on service, because they enable the ISP to collect a new revenue stream. Customers willing to pay more for privacy can use alternate providers or pay for a VPN.
Pay more and you get more.
The other great fear is that ISPs will charge for access to popular services like Netflix, or throttle bandwidth to slow peer-to-peer software like BitTorrent, or block ports needed to host a server.
If customers can watch movies on Netflix, customers will pay for that bandwidth. The ISP is a business, not a charity. Demanding that streaming services are included at no extra cost forces all customers to share the cost, whether they watch movies or not.
Netflix has about 50 million U.S. subscribers, out of 286 million internet users in the country.
Little surprise that it is the Netflix-streaming, file-sharing power user minority who leads the way in demanding “neutral” flat rates. Grandma, using Facebook to share photos, and disadvantaged subscribers who want a basic connection to check e-mail, hunt for jobs, or post angry comments online have little to gain by being forced to subsidize power users. If they want Netflix, and they are willing to pay for it, an additional fee is a fair solution. Pay more and you get more.
Save Restaurant Neutrality
In 2015, people who eat food won strong rules from the Federal Dining Commission prohibiting restaurants from abusing their powers.
Ever since these landmark dining rules were put in effect, everyone who can afford to eat out enjoys the same all-you-can-eat buffet, where all world cuisines are featured. Not everyone drinks their complementary glass of wine, but at least it's free!
Some radicals have proposed rolling back these dining reforms. Imagine what would happen! Restaurants would immediately start offering specialized meals, and jacking up the prices for "extras" like dessert. Nothing would stop them from providing so-called "loyalty cards" which would be disguised scams for tracking where and when people eat, so the restaurant could offer targeted "special offers" based on the diner's taste.
Suppose you had a craving for fried chicken while eating at a vegetarian restaurant – too bad! The kitchen would under no obligation to cater to your whims!
Soon restaurants would be giving out free samples of their own dishes, but not those of the competition. Diners could be tricked into increasing their loyalty to such restaurants.
Save Telephone Neutrality
Okay, restaurants and ISPs are not the same, the analogy isn't perfect. How about phone service?
Remember the last time the common carriers had us cornered? Mobile phones once used for talking sparked a mania for beaming sentences around at the speed of light. Mobile providers milked the fad, earning over $100 billion in 2010, despite the actual cost of $0.00016 to send a text message.
Today, people beam more sentences than ever, but pay less thanks to iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Viber.
Power users in the telephone world are the ones who make international calls. It's not so hard to wire neighborhoods and cities together, but undersea cables and satellites are expensive to build and maintain.
People who make local calls pay the least. People who make long-distance calls pay more. People who make international calls pay the most.
Is there anything about this arrangement that is unfair or unethical? Pay more and you get more. People who make local calls should not be forced to subsidize international callers.
What about privacy? I don't think anybody but the NSA is listening to phone conversations. But if a customer makes a lot of calls to Argentina, and their next bill includes a promotional insert for a Latin America calling package, is that a gross violation of social norms?
If it is, telephone companies will have an incentive to respect customers' wishes, as Gmail has decided to stop scanning e-mail contents for ad targeting.
Save Net Neutrality
Do we even know what we are campaigning for? Do we want to make dialup service illegal? Good luck connecting to P2P sites or Netflix at 56 kbps. People who can only afford $9.99 a month can always go to the public library, right? Score one for privacy!
What about tiered service? This should be as controversial as paying more for business class, or for ringside seats, or more minutes, or a better blender. Why force everyone to get the same level of service? Why force people to pay for more service than they would choose to pay?
Some people say we should just leave net neutrality alone and not interfere. But a reasonable understanding of "neutrality" is to behave like the Swiss and stay out of other people's affairs.
More choice, less force. "That’s freedom, isn’t it?"