In case you missed it, the National Grange recently issued a statement opposing net neutrality legislation. They're concerned about the effect net neutrality regulations will have on smaller rural-based carriers, and the rate of broadband rollout in rural communities. The Grange is a storied organization that has done a lot for rural communities over the last 150 years; they were the driving force behind rural free delivery at the turn of the century, there's even a monument to their work on the National Mall. But as someone who's spent most of my life living in towns of under 2,000 people, I thought I would take this opportunity to disagree with their take on net neutrality.
Rural people have been a pawn in telecommunications politics for at least a century, beginning when the radio networks used the lack of radio reception in rural areas to push for high power, clear channel stations (for a good overview of this, check out James Foust's Big Voices of the Air). Rural people are convenient for incumbent communications providers because 1) everybody likes them and 2) they don't talk back. This is one of the neat quirks of US broadcasting for rural residents: since the production of content happens in urban centers, rural people are always listening, but rarely speaking. This in turn goes a long way towards explaining the shameful depiction of rural people in the mass media.
This is the same model that the cable companies use and the telcos want to replicate: centralized production of content pushed out over fat, asymmetric pipes, consumers' content choices limited by who can pay for the pipe. This is what the net neutrality fight is really about. An open, neutral Internet shakes this model to pieces, by allowing those on the fringes–rural people–to create and publish content that can be seen, heard, and responded to in the center of the largest cities. To talk back, for once.
The Grange is probably worried that the battle over net neutrality will hold up national video franchising, which they believe will help spur broadband deployment in rural areas. Whether you agree with this or not, a non-neutral net itself will do nothing to address this problem. If anything, it might make matters worse, as Harold Feld of the Media Access Project pointed out recently. Imagine that a local telephone company decided to take advantage of its broadband monopoly by telling a content provider, “I'm sorry, but if you want to reach customers in Cherryfield, Maine, you're going to have to pay extra.” For content providers whose revenue depends on advertising, the obvious response is not to pay, since rural customers tend to be a less desirable, less influential demographic to begin with. A non-neutral Internet could actually reduce the incentives for companies to provide rural broadband access, by making it comparatively less profitable.