Last night, I came home after a long day of designing bridges, and opened the packages that had come in while I was away. There was cat food and litter from Chewy, and assorted goods from Amazon, all Prime of course. Then I went upstairs and watched some old Addams Family episodes with my partner on Hulu, streaming through our Roku stick. While doing this, I comparison shopped for groceries on Prime Pantry, Thrive, and HEB Curbside.
Everything about what you just read is an almost uniquely millennial way to save money on the things we need, and to maximize the time that we don’t have since many of us have had to move to outer suburbs to find affordable housing once we had children, and face long commutes to work. Every single part of it is vulnerable if net neutrality is lost. How many people do you know under the age of 40 who still have cable or satellite TV? Very few, right? Most of us have found that it is cheaper to just get internet, and then use streaming apps like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix, which charge drastically less than the cable providers charge for TV. It’s actually fully possible to have plenty to watch without ever paying for a single app, which we did for a while when we first got our Roku. Even if you add multiple paid streaming apps, as we did eventually, you’re still coming out ahead.
Most of us discovered this workaround circa 2010, so that means the cable companies have been steadily losing our business ever since. Aside from internet service, they are a relic of a bygone era, clinging to things that nobody wants anymore. I’ll never forget the time I called our cable company to discontinue our internet service because we had saved a little by bundling it with our mobile phone service. Nothing illustrates this point better than the conversation that resulted.
They said, “Well, we offer bundled services, too.” I replied, “Yeah, but not with anything I actually want.” They told me their TV packages were better than any other, and that my partner would love if I got him all the football channels for only $20. I replied that my partner doesn’t like sports, and since he’s British, especially doesn’t like American football, and that we didn’t want cable TV, period. I explained that offering us cable TV when we distinctly don’t want it is like offering us a great deal on steaks whilst knowing that we are vegetarians. This went on for ten minutes as they tried to convince me that I was really missing out by forgoing a service I had lived without, by choice, for the majority of my adult life by that point. I will spare you the sales pitch they gave me for landline phone service. Suffice it to say, they did not take, “I haven’t used a landline since I was 17” for an answer. These people are extremely out of touch with today’s grown adults and what we want, and it’s costing them money. How many millions of us are choosing not to pay that extra $60/mo or whatever it is, for cable TV because Hulu is just as good and costs $7? Do you think the cable companies like that?
So net neutrality goes away, and companies like AT&T (who hawk U-Verse TV at us every time we pay our phone bill), Comcast (who couldn’t believe I really didn’t want TV and phone service along with my internet. Why pay $50 for the one thing you’ll use when you can pay $100 and get a bunch of shit you never wanted?!), and Time Warner (who thought my British partner just needed more NFL in his life and their extended cable package was the answer), are now in charge of how we receive the internet. How many minutes do you think it will take them to implement paid streaming? Do the words, “$100 internet bill” make you feel warm and fuzzy? These people want our money, and right now, they’re not getting as much of it as they were. Do we really want to give them the green light to get it from us by whatever means necessary? I think not.
It doesn’t stop at streaming, though. This is one deep rabbit hole of suck. Who among us has not bought Amazon knockoffs of our favorite clothes? There are entire groups on FaceBook devoted to finding the best knockoffs. It’s huge. We find something on ModCloth, and love it, but because wages haven’t kept up with inflation, and we’re paying $1800/mo for a 2 BR apartment an hour from work, we can’t afford a $60 skirt no matter how cute it is, so we find a good replica of it on Amazon for $15, and order it in two colors. Sure, we’ll have to wait a month for them to arrive from China, and we’ll have to air them out on the balcony when they arrive because the dyes make them smell awful at first, but we basically just cut out the middle man and got what we needed to look professional at a price we can afford. Sounds great. Is great.
Now, consider that ModCloth was just bought by Jet. Jet is owned by Wal-Mart. Therefore, the retailer we all came to know and love as an indie dress shop, is actually Wal-Mart now. This isn’t news to anybody, but it means there are huge corporate interests in keeping our money there. Make no mistake about it, these people do not like that we have found a way to get goods from, quite likely, the same Chinese sellers they go through, via independent Amazon stores. Does anyone actually believe it would be out of reach for service providers to ally with major corporations to filter search results to exclude direct-buys from Chinese sellers?
There are lots of sites that exist for the sole purpose of saving money compared to the OG retailers. Ever bought glasses from Zenni? Ever ordered from Thrive rather than spending your “Whole Paycheck” at Whole Foods? Ever bought party supplies or gifts from Ali Express, Alibaba, or any of the many sites that sell discounted products in exchange for reviews and seller feedback? Ever bought your pet’s food on Chewy because they’re about half the price of Prime Pantry and 1/3 the price of the upscale pet market in your neighborhood? In order for the competition that has resulted in the ability to search and compare for the lowest price on the things we need, we have to have an internet that brings our search results to us in an unbiased way. Sure, we can still visit whatever sites we want, theoretically anyway, and maybe for a price, but to get the full use of this capability, the internet must be neutral, and serve the people before the corporations.
Life is harder these days than it was when our parents were our age. We work harder, and get less, and we need every little life hack we can get to save just a little more. The internet, more than anything else, has allowed us to create these workarounds to mitigate the rising cost of living and our ever stagnated wages. The internet service companies do not care about us. They want our money and they are mad that we’re not giving them as much as we used to when cable TV was popular. We cannot let them do this to us. It is us vs them. It doesn’t matter if we are Democrat, Republican, unaffiliated on the right, left, or center, whatever races make up our heritage, who we like to sleep with, where or if we worship, or how we define our gender. Every single one of us is in the same boat, because sorry, Mitt Romney, but corporations are not people. We are people, and in this, we are at odds with the interests of certain corporations. We matter more than they do. I don’t know how much more simply it can be stated.