Net neutrality isn’t the only way to keep the internet fair. It’s just the only way in America.

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One reason why network neutrality is such a big deal is that competition among broadband providers is more limited in the United States than it perhaps has to be. Other countries have found a way to create competition: forcing big internet service providers to sell access to the “last mile” of their infrastructure to other internet service providers. The term “last mile,” also sometimes referred to as the “local loop,” refers to the final bit of the network chain that physically reaches the end user — the wire that ultimately connects your home to the internet.  Local loop unbundling,” requiring providers to sell access to that last bit of infrastructure, forces big telecom companies to open up their networks to smaller, newer telecoms, allowing them to compete for customers and, in turn, driving down prices. 

Legally, applying unbundling rules to cable companies would be an enormous feat — they were never included under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Requiring a provider to literally lease control of physical infrastructure — as in, unbundle their loops — would require legislative action. Requiring that network operators provide transit to all parties equally could be done with regulations. But neither solution is simple, or very likely. When I asked one Wall Street analyst about the prospect of local loop unbundling, he replied, “You mean circa 1997? Who is unbundling anymore?” Everyone says they want competition. They just don’t agree how to get it.


Net neutrality isn’t the only way to keep the internet fair. It’s just the only way in America.