Long before John Oliver called for an end to "cable company f**kery," another comedian also named John was beating the net neutrality drum. As far back as 2006, author and actor John Hodgman was using postal envelopes to explain how Internet service providers might let content from Google and Amazon through to consumers very easily while discriminating against content from other companies.
Now Hodgman is back at it. In an essay on Tumblr posted Monday night, Hodgman takes aim at large telecom companies who can "control what is increasingly a mandatory purchase" for many Americans: access to high-speed broadband that connects them to information, entertainment and economic opportunity.
Hodgman has some personal stake in the issue as a performer. Arguing that the Internet helps promote artists and small businesses that drive the U.S. economy, Hodgman added that many of the country's dominant telecom providers would not be in their successful position today had they not benefited from public resources such as land and wireless airwaves.
The issue has clearly been on Hodgman's mind for some time. At the end of a lengthy response to a separate BuzzFeed article, Hodgman told his readers he'd be holding an impromptu Q&A session on Tumblr for an hour to discuss Obamacare, net neutrality as well as any other issue his followers thought important. Amid queries on his favorite vegetable (brussels sprouts) and whether to see the movie "Interstellar," (…yes?) Hodgman saved his longest response for last.
"I believe in capitalism but not monopolies," Hodgman wrote. "I believe in entrepreneurship and I am not against government efforts to foster it. I believe more communities should invest in their own broadband to break regional telecom monopolies. Personally I believe that the federal government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates. And I believe preferential fast-laning for big companies will decrease competition and quality and ultimately hamper what is poised to be the most important area of economic, cultural, and technological innovation of our time."
This isn't far off from what President Obama recommended when he asked the Federal Communications Commission to develop strong rules to prevent broadband providers from giving some apps special treatment over others. But Hodgman stopped short of endorsing Obama's specific policy proposal — that the FCC classify Internet providers under Title II of the Communications Act. Such a move would give the agency expansive powers to oversee broadband companies, though opponents of the idea, including the telecom industry, say it would not be effective in stopping Internet fast lanes.
With his essay Monday, Hodgman dropped the irreverent, ironic character he'd maintained over the course of the Q&A; if there had been a camera, he would've deadpanned into it.
"We have seen what happens when two or one large companies control what is increasingly a MANDATORY purchase in a given region," Hodgman wrote, "whether that’s health insurance or broadband (internet is a de factor [sic] required school supply in most communities now): high prices compared to the rest of the world and compromised service.
"I don’t need to see what will happen if independent e-commerce and media-streaming and journalism is throttled to the point of non-existence by a few big corps that can pay for the fast lane."