One of the arguments in the debate on net neutrality is that,
If there were sufficient broadband competition, we wouldn't need regulation. I'm not necessarily convinced it's true (for example: the need for anti-discrimination laws in other contexts doesn't go away when the market is
competitive), but for this blog post, let's just live under the following hypothetical:
The market for broadband is competitive.
Broadband is widely available to all.
No legally enforceable net neutrality.
If that were the case, net neutrality would be a feature of service for broadband providers. Some folks might actually prefer one ISP to another because they could access and provide to others the content or services they desired. It'd just be another feature of the ISP's service, such as speed, higher limits for email inboxes, better price, etc.
If that were the case, then maybe someone like Consumer Reports or Broadband Reports could come up with ratings for how neutral an ISP's service was. Better yet, the online community could develop a BBB reliability program or a Good Housekeeping-like seal-of-approval. If the ISP lived up to the standard, they'd be able to advertise as such. That way, consumers would have a clear way of knowing what they were getting into. If more consumers demanded it, it's likely more ISPs would provide for it.
The best historical analogy I know would be how we used Prodigy, CompuServe, and AOL to get to their individualized walled garden, but if you wanted to be able to send emails over the actual Internet, you had to pay extra. Thankfully for consumers and businesses alike, the market evolved, and even today, AOL is finally knocking down those remaining walls to compete to provide its valued content on the Internets.
If the reality of this post were to come true, simple access to an unmolested version of the Internet would be a paid feature of an ISP's broadband service.
Read: You would likely have to pay extra to get to the Internet as we know it today.
Regardless of what happens in this net neutrality policy debate, it might be a good idea to come up with a net neutrality seal-of-approval. A web browser toolbar-type-app could help keep ISPs honest to “certify” for this net neutrality seal–constantly being monitored by users and watchdogs alike. At least one tool for this is in development and there's conjecture that assessment of net neutrality is already being conducted by a well-known Internet based company.
What would the standard for such a seal-of-approval look like? How would we judge it? How would we enforce it? Could the answers to those questions help us all describe an effective and enforceable government policy?