The most common analogy I’ve seen discussing net neutrality is a highway — and it’s a more appropriate comparison than you may realize.
Net neutrality currently requires ISPs to treat all Internet highway travel equally; they can’t charge you extra based on where you’re going. They can charge you more to use their 75 MPH highway — as opposed to their standard 55 MPH one — but if you’ve paid for it, you’re allowed to go 75 MPH whether you’re headed to Netflix or Wikipedia.
Eliminating net neutrality would allow ISPs to restrict your speed based on your digital destination.
Most of your average Internet-using citizens support net neutrality, while ISPs — who are clearly colluding with the government on this one, with lobbyists becoming FCC chairs and FCC chairs becoming lobbyists — want to be able to do what they want with their highway.
Did you catch that? Their highway. They built the infrastructure. They spent the millions of dollars to physically lay copper wire or fiber or whatever other information pathway they decided to use.
This is why the-Internet-is-a-highway analogy is so great. Citizens paid to have our current highways built (the ones we drive our actual cars on) through taxes, the government built them, and citizens can petition the government to make rules about those highways — like speed limits, HOV lanes, and whether big trucks can use the left-hand lane.
Private roads don’t have to follow those rules. They’re private. And when an ISP builds infrastructure, they’re not providing a public service; they’re building private roads.
Now, these companies usually do get a kickback or incentive to build in the first place through subsidies or tax breaks — the same way a state or city would incentivize any companies to bring their business to the area.
And we could force a private company to share their infrastructure; that’s what we did with the telephone companies. It didn’t matter whether it was MCI’s or AT&T’s wire (highway); they had to allow any telephone company to use it. While this does help spread access and drive down cost, it kills innovation. How many huge advancements in telephone-wire technology did we see last century? What incentive does a phone company have to improve infrastructure if they’re going to have to share it with everyone?
That’s why the Internet wasn’t initially classified as a common carrier — to encourage innovation. Why do you think we have Google Fiber? Google can go into a new city, spend the money to improve (or maintain existing) infrastructure, provide a better service, and they don’t have to share their highway or their money with anyone. The ISP that makes the most money, ultimately, will be the one who is able to provide the best, fastest Internet — which requires, among other things, the best infrastructure.
Now, I’m all for saying Internet access is a legal right — just like any public utility. You meet the criteria (e.g. live in the area) and pay for it, you get government-protected Internet access. But if that’s what we want, then the government should be building the infrastructure with our tax dollars. We shouldn’t expect companies to build our roads and then get mad at them for wanting some say in what those roads are used for.
If you want net neutrality, treat the Internet like any public utility — like water, gas, sewage, garbage, electricity, police, fire, school, etc. — have the local government pay for it, build it, and manage it.