Debates over net neutrality tend to be a bit abstract and hypothetical for consumers. Net neutrality had been the status quo for the internet since we all started using it, so, thinking of the consequences of changing this standard requires making an imaginative leap. That’s why I did a walk through of the Amazon/Hachette fight for The American Conservative this week and traced out the way it foreshadows fights between ISPs and websites:
The FCC is considering new rules for net neutrality, including the possibility of scrapping it all together. If the old rules are thrown out, customers will have to rely on market forces, not regulation, to limit corporate chicanery. But, as Amazon’s war of attrition with Hachette suggests, ordinary consumers have a limited ability to force a marketplace to stay open to all.
Consumers have more power to punish Amazon than an internet service provider. Striking back against the retailer means placing your order somewhere else or cancelling your Prime membership. Punishing your ISP is an all or nothing affair, and switching providers means spending the day at home waiting for the cable guy. That’s if you have the power to change at all, since many apartment dwellers are stuck with whichever company the landlord lets into the building, and years of crony capitalism have established regional monopolies at larger scales. An ISP would need to behave truly egregiously to lose customers.
I don’t think that the substance of the fight between Hachette and Amazon is completely one-sided, but the tactics being brought to bear give me the heebie-jeebies.
P.S. This is my last week so feel free to make pitches for my last Thursday post in the comments. (No, I probably can’t use the slot on pitching AmCon readers on math and neo-Platonism). I’m also taking suggestions for how to best use my free summer before my new job starts up.