If you’re looking for some spot-on proof that the United States’ antitrust laws from the 1890’s were a good idea, you don’t need to look any further than the current state of the Internet service industry.

There are 50 states in this republic of ours, but only 12 ISPs have emerged as market leaders to serve our country’s nearly 280 million Internet subscribers.

Can you detect a problem here? While Americans have probably gotten used to living alongside our many faceless corporate neighbors, it just doesn’t make sense to place control over the Internet—arguably the most important public utility (more on that phrase in a bit) of our time—in the hands of just a dozen companies. That imbalance of power is simply unsustainable, not to mention anathema to the very idea of progress and innovation.

Map of ISPs

Infographic source: here

And it’s only going to get worse; Comcast and Time Warner Cable—two of America’s largest ISPs—tried to merge earlier this year in order to create an even more monolithic presence in the Internet service industry. In case you hadn’t heard, Comcast recently took top prize in Consumerist’s tournament for worst company in America. And Time Warner Cable was a finalist.

I don’t need to tell you how much of a blow this plan would have been to the very idea of competition—a core principle of capitalism and one of the reasons the Sherman Antitrust Law was drawn up 124 years ago. And yet, even after the FTC shut it down, these two juggernauts were already looking ahead at the next possible deal.

So what’s the solution?

One proposed solution has come about thanks to the recent explosion of support for the Net Neutrality movement, and it involves the way we classify—or don’t classify—the utilities that almost every American uses on a daily basis. These include water, electricity, gas, and – you guessed it – our Internet infrastructure.

One of the tenets of the Net Neutrality movement is the idea that the Internet should remain an impartial transportation system for the flow of information. In other words, Netflix shouldn’t have to pay Time Warner or Comcast any amount of blood money to ensure that their customers get the same service as everybody else. Our so-called “Internet traffic jam” is a problem deliberately engineered by America’s ISPs to squeeze more money out of companies like Netflix—and the cost of this kind of brinksmanship will soon spill over onto the average consumer as well.

In other words: if you think Netflix is done hiking their prices, you might want to think again.

If we ever succeed in permanently adopting fair Net Neutrality legislation in this country, it would ensure that every user of the Internet will enjoy the same quality of service. No exceptions. The FCC and the White House have been doing their best, but America’s Internet providers are rising up as one to condemn and threaten our fledgling efforts at leveling the playing field. It will be years before we have closure on this issue.

And part of that solution hinges on our reclassification of the Internet as a public utility – just like electricity, water, and gas. This would effectively turn America’s physical infrastructure into a much more open, accessible, secure, and transparent place to work and play, as opposed to the closed-off and restricted system we have now, where corporate myopia and greed hold sway.

The good news is that we have a tech-savvy President and an FCC chairman who both helped with the adoption of strong net neutrality laws earlier this year. Legal challenges notwithstanding, this is a huge step in the right direction, and will set the tone of the conversation for a long time to come.

And there’s even more good news—or at least the possibility of good news. Earlier in 2015, President Obama traveled the country championing the importance of a free and open Internet and explaining why it’s more crucial than ever that we remove the barriers to municipal broadband construction. A recent stop put him in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where consumers now enjoy some of the fastest gigabit Internet currently available—and it was made possible because the city chose to put its pushy ISP incumbents on notice. Here’s hoping something sentiments take root in the nation’s capital; a municipal alternative to the private sector’s bullying would be a welcome change for a majority of Americans.

Dan Wilhelm
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Copyright 2015 The Moderate Voice
  • Here in much of Western Oregon we also have Frontier (formerly Verizon) but they are even worse than Comcast and the internet speed is much slower in spite of the fact they are a fiber optic network.

    • Slamfu

      We have 2 bad options here in my neck of the woods, Comcast and AT&T. Both suck, both don’t deliver the speeds they advertise, and in my specific building I ONLY have Comcast as an option. They can get away with it because they don’t have any serious competition, it is sad. No competition is not Capitalist. It’s just financial feudalism.

  • Slamfu

    Few things in this country so clearly show how the “Free Market” in this country is being destroyed by lack of regulation, lack of competition, and by lawmakers being more and more beholden to corporations who pay for their campaigns as the joke that is our internet access. I am all for Net Neutrality, all for this becoming a utility and regulated like one, or whatever we can do that makes more competition to spur better services and pricing.

    The big companies have been carving out pseudo monopolies for a long time now, and it is actually hurting this country at this point. Americans are paying more for less in so many important areas like education, healthcare, and yes, my internet services that let me binge watch Netflix all weekend. Businesses count on this stuff as well, and we are falling behind, because of massive corporations and lack of regulation that keeps them from screwing over the general public.

    • KP

      So …
      Who is really running The Moderate Voice?(!)

    • Lorie Emerson

      Don’t worry “the invisible hand” will fix it all!!! (As soon as the hand is done untangling the giant spaghetti monster)

  • rudi

    We pay for cable and get more commercials than with “free TV.”
    http://theweek.com/articles/449919/why-american-internet-slow

    According to a recent study by Ookla Speedtest,
    the U.S. ranks a shocking 31st in the world in terms of average
    download speeds. The leaders in the world are Hong Kong at 72.49 Mbps
    and Singapore on 58.84 Mbps. And America? Averaging speeds of 20.77
    Mbps, it falls behind countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, and
    Uruguay.

    Its upload speeds are even worse.
    Globally, the U.S. ranks 42nd with an average upload speed of 6.31 Mbps,
    behind Lesotho, Belarus, Slovenia, and other countries you only hear
    mentioned on Jeopardy.Susan Crawford argues that “huge telecommunication companies” such as Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, and AT&T have “divided up markets and put themselves in a position where they’re subject to no competition.”

    How? The 1996 Telecommunications Act — which was meant to foster competition — allowed cable companies and telecoms companies to simply divide markets and merge their way to monopoly, allowing them to charge customers higher and higher prices without the kind of investment in internet infrastructure, especially in next-generation fiber optic connections, that is ongoing in other countries. Fiber optic connections offer a particularly compelling example. While expensive to build, they offer faster and smoother connections than traditional copper wire connections. But Verizon stopped building out fiber optic infrastructure in 2010.

  • I have Comcast and I must admit I really don’t have many complaints. I pay an extra $15 a month for premium internet which is advertised to be 100 MBPS. My hard wired desktop actually gets about 120 MBPS and my home WIFI over 20 MBPS. The service is reliable for the most part so I usually don’t need to contact customer service .

  • Rambie

    In the metro areas a Utah there is two bad options; Century Link & Comcast.