Glimmer of hope or dying embers? Net neutrality flares up again

Politicos get behind Net neutrality with the Open Internet Preservation Act of 2014, but the real power lies with us

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If true, it means the FCC can still do whatever it wants when it comes to Internet regulation. Netflix stock prices, data security, LOLCat photos -- they're all up for grabs. The problem is that our golden government's recent history of stretching any legal loophole into truck-sized tunnels of Constitution-crushing policy means a return to nebulous FCC governance wouldn't be a good thing either.

How many roads to an open Internet?

Even our paths to salvation are forked both practical and cynical. Watchdog organizations like the fabulous Electronic Frontier Foundation are offering suggestions for ways to give consumers the ability to test their broadband service and challenge their ISPs if they don't live up to service-level agreements, like broadly available testing tools or independent traffic validation. Others, like the Free Press advocacy group, started petitions that have already garnered the million signatures they need to force White House response.

Then there's the cynical set that believes any power relying on broad consumer intervention is doomed to apathy in this country and petitions that actually make it to the White House will wind up in a tired clerk's inbox, ranked lower in priority than his lunch order. These folks default to the fatalistic approach, which posits that everything will shake out in time. Big corporations will try and screw (not necessarily in this order) each other, small up-and-coming competitors, and us as much as they can while these issues remain mired for years in musty courtrooms and CNBC.

In the end, someone will go too far and it'll become an election issue, which will push the case to the forefront in the court of public opinion. That, in turn, will advance it to the top of the Supreme Court docket, and we'll finally have a solution -- which will bring its own problems. The dance will start again to different music.

As a venerable snarkmeister, I must confess my head lies largely with the latter opinion. But my heart still says -- and I believe it's right -- that efforts from large groups of voters can and will have an impact. If a million of us (myself included) were willing to put down our scotch glasses long enough to sign a digital petition against a questionable court ruling in only two weeks, that's some real passion.

Not without my Netflix

I think I know why: Large corporations, and most likely much of Washington, operate under the proven bread-and-circuses principle, which states that people will ignore attacks on their rights, wealth, and freedoms as long as they're kept entertained elsewhere. Unfortunately for them, that's exactly what they're messing with this time.

Maybe we'll lay down for email and phone monitoring since most of us think we're not doing anything worthy of a superspy's attention anyway, so someone else will wind up trapped in an NSA black site wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask. But stick your grubby fingers into our ability to binge watch "House of Cards" or "Duck Dynasty," and you're marching into a political buzz saw.

Yes, control of the Web is now a dogfight with no handlers, but in the end, the money comes from us. Even without very many choices when it comes to ISPs, we can still threaten legions of political jobs. And remember that politicians don't like losing their jobs since they'll probably never have it that good again. Get re-elected or it's back to the used car dealership or the law library.

That's our ace in the hole, and thanks to the Web, we don't need to get into a car and drive all the way to Washington to show it.

This article, "Glimmer of hope or dying embers? Net neutrality flares up again," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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