(Continued from a previous post).

Overall, most of the problems the consumer faces with a lack of Net Neutrality are solved with a solution that isn’t strong Net Neutrality rules. Rather, having a healthy, competitive market would be the best thing for getting the kind of service that consumers desire. Having a real choice—like the one that the mobile phone industry has provided since T Mobile “went rogue” in 2013—means that consumers will see cheaper and better plans.

However, unlike mobile phones, consumers often have little choice when choosing their Internet provider. This is due to both municipal agreements that give companies effective monopolies over certain areas, and the extremely high cost of installing the systems.

However, the fact remains that 20% of U.S. households have access to 1 or 0 (wired) Broadband Internet providers for internet speeds starting at 3 Mbps, which is quite slow. That’s one in five with no choice. Around 86% of households have access to 2 or fewer providers.

These are crazy numbers. In almost the entirety of continental United States, you have access to the major four cell phone providers and a large number of regional and discount carriers. The competition keeps prices low.

But, if two out of ten American households have no choice of provider, then there’s no competition in 20% of the country. And almost nine out of ten have, at best, a choice of picking company “A” or company “B.” Much like gas stations that sit across the street from each other, the companies in regions with only one other competitor are smart enough to realize that they can keep prices high and quality of service low, as long as the only other company does the same. They both make more money that way.

If Americans really care about having higher-quality internet, for cheaper, and provided in a manner that is open to all content providers at the same entry price, then there needs to be meaningful competition, which by my guess would require, at a minimum, three competing companies in each area.

That means that almost two-thirds of American households need access to one more ISP. And another twenty percent need access to at least two more.

If competition is indeed the solution to bad Internet, then the solution is to encourage competition. Communities could accomplish this task by refusing to extend, or offer, new regional monopolies to companies, as well as offering tax or other financial incentives to companies to enter an area and compete.

Most of the problems we want to associate with Net Neutrality are actually problems that are appearing because the industry lacks competition, and that we are, perhaps, focusing on the wrong things. But, at the beginning of this article, I promised you a look at the other side, the group of people who are in favor of repealing Net Neutrality rules.

It only seems correct, then, to bring up Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, now known colloquially on the Internet as the ‘man who’s trying to kill Net Neutrality.’ He recently published a letter about why he’s doing what he’s doing, and I think it is fascinating. You can read it here.

A few of my big takeaways:

  1. Net Neutrality was not enshrined in law before 2015, and none of the problems of not having it seemed to materialize. (This claim may or may not be true. Its truthfulness is dependent on one’s particular definition of Net Neutrality, and whether the alleged infraction took place pre- or post-2015. Some quick research suggests it counts as “mostly true”).
  2. For the first time not as a result of a recession, investment in Internet infrastructure declined. (See my earlier point about the importance of infrastructure investment and price).
  3. Small internet providers are disproportionately affected, as the current Net Neutrality rules are vague—and they don’t have the resources to pay for legal research on the front end, or to pay lawsuit losses that result from violating a vague rule.
  4. According to the Obama Administration, the curated packages of a few websites that everyone seems to hate so much (pictured above), are totally, 100 percent, legal. That’s right.

To quote Mr. Pai, “. . . the reason that Internet service providers aren’t offering such packages now, and likely won’t offer such packages in the future, is that American consumers by and large don’t want them.”  (Sound familiar?)

There’s more in the letter than what I’ve brought up. I would seriously recommend you give it a read if you’ve found what I’ve written to be interesting because he lays out his argument more fully than I had the space to do so here.

In closing, I want to take a moment to look at this situation in as big of a picture as I can.

What seems to be going on here is that the group that stands to lose out, the Netflixes and Reddits of the world, have possibly produced, but definitely promulgated, a series of ideas about Net Neutrality rules that are questionable, at best. They’ve made a lot of people mad and encouraged thousands of people to contact their representatives, based on spurious claims, and to be frank, fear-mongering.

And, they seem to be playing alone. It’s like a game of tennis, where these companies bat balls over the net and score points, but the other player never showed.

They’ve also been masterful in painting the situation as a free speech situation, which disguises that this appears to be fundamentally about money. It’s easy to get people stirred up if they think free speech is in danger. That’s something Americans hold dear. But it is at best, a dubious claim.

Given all of this, well, lobbying, the ISPs on the other side have been strangely silent. It’s hard to tell what exactly they see themselves getting out of this situation, but it does suggest they have (probably correctly) assessed that this battle is not one of public opinion, but of legislative influence.

That is probably why there’s so much misconception about Net Neutrality—there’s no pushback, and consequentially, all manner of bad (and some good) claims about what the end of Net Neutrality means are allowed to continue. That’s more frightening than a Net Neutrality repeal.