The fall of net neutrality: Cable's plot to destroy the internet

Higher costs and worse service loom on the horizon

But it remains to be seen whether these same titans will put their own money to work lobbying against cable.

"It's a neat coalition, but I don't know where their lobbying dollars are going," says Barnett. "Yeah, they signed this letter and sent it to the FCC. Kudos to them. But, you know, show me the money."

"They're in the business of dominating"

In the end, regulating broadband as a utility appears the simplest way of ensuring the internet doesn't grow as concentrated as the rest of the economy.

With colleagues slathered in money, Al Franken is among the few to make a fuss
With colleagues slathered in money, Al Franken is among the few to make a fuss

"People would be up in arms if you suddenly had to pay a toll on your phone calls based upon which companies you were calling," Wassenaar points out. "The social expectation for how phone service works is built upon the regulation we imposed upon these corporations. And if they were treated as utilities, the public could actually determine if there is enough investment."

Of course, the rules imposed on the phone companies didn't break them. Verizon and AT&T are doing just fine, thank you. While cable may be dealing with the erosion of its pay-TV franchise, its broadband service will only grow.

"They'd be able to adapt just fine, but they're not in the business of adapting," says Barnett. "They're in the business of dominating."

He's not hopeful that consumers will be protected. "When you have a fairly complicated issue and all the money — and I mean all the money — is on one side of the issue, it's pretty clear what's going to win."

While Congress has oversight and could intervene, it can barely muster a consensus to scratch its own belly, much less pass legislation. That leaves the five FCC commissioners to decide, with Wheeler as the swing vote. At least he has a sense of humor — sort of.

In a segment on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver suggested that putting a former cable lobbyist in charge of net neutrality was like calling a dingo to babysit your kids. The episode caused such an uproar that viewers crashed the FCC's website with their comments.

Wheeler responded by insisting "I'm no dingo." Time will tell.

The new rules won't be adopted until at least September 15, and the public can still comment at until July 15.

Speak now or forever hold your peace.

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