Subtle discrimination

My recent post on net neutrality unpacked a hypothetical offered by Reason magazine.  I laid out several reasons I thought their reasoning was flawed, and I want to briefly add another.  First, here’s the hypothetical:

If AT&T DSL blocked your access to Google because they wanted you to use Yahoo, what would you do? Probably cancel your plan and go to a provider that gives you easy access to your favorite sites.

When it comes to ISP’s discriminating between services or content, blocking sites is a blunt instrument (and one the FCC has now disallowed.)

Much trickier is discriminating via speed of service.  In the context of the hypothetical that means AT&T agreeing to make Yahoo arrive faster than Google or vice versa.

Even if you think blocked sites are enough to make users change ISPs, you might reasonably conclude they’re less likely to do so over this more subtle kind of discrimination.  Especially if they don’t even know if it’s going on.

Of course, the FCC is now requiring ISPs to “disclose what steps they take to manage their networks”.  Does Reason at least think that’s a good thing?  Or do they think consumers will sleuth out this kind of discrimination on their own and switch to neutral ISPs?

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