Net Neutrality is a big topic on the internet right now. The FCC is considering voting to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to interfere with your internet access, and even demand payment from websites to be visible to their subscribers. Some don’t seem to understand the danger this poses, so let’s look at how things might have gone with electric vehicles had their not been net neutrality in the past.
Imagine you’re watching the news and see a protest. You aren’t sure whether you agree with the protesters, and you want to learn more about the issue. You see a website address on some of the signs, and decide to take a look. You open your browser, type in the address, and instead of seeing the website, you see a message from your ISP.
“We’re sorry, but this website is not included in your current service tier. To unlock, please pay an additional $5.99 to upgrade to our unlimited access tier.”
Many people balk at paying even a dollar to buy apps for their $1,000 smartphones, and like them, you decide that satisfying your curiosity about the protest is not worth the $5.99. The activists don’t get to reach out to the public directly unless they can afford to take out an ad on one of the bigger news websites or print publications. Their effort eventually goes nowhere and nothing changes.
Sound farfetched? Not really. This is almost exactly how things could have gone in 2004-2005 when auto manufacturers were rounding up leased EVs for destruction. While I’d recommend watching Who Killed The Electric Car? to learn the whole story, here’s a quick rundown of what happened: California regulators required manufacturers to make electric vehicles if they wanted to sell cars in the state at all. They complied and built a variety of models, but would only lease them. Once they managed to get the requirement repealed, they took the cars back and destroyed them.
Owners who had fallen in love with their cars protested. They formed groups that figured out where the cars were being stored, and made sure there would be a public presence when the cars were carted off for destruction. They made a lot of noise and got a lot of attention. Some of this was through the media, but their websites were a big part of what made the movement capture the public imagination instead of just getting 2 minutes on the local news one night.
Websites like SaveEV1.org and DontCrush.com were vitally important to the movement, but that’s not where the story ends. The leaders of these movements eventually got together and formed Plug In America, an organization that still exists to this day. Over the years, Plug In America has played an important role in pushing for electric vehicles while automakers were pushing increasingly uneconomical models.
But to really see how important this movement was, we have to look at a tweet from Elon Musk.
He went on to talk about the protests to save the EV1, and how this inspired Tesla’s founders to start a company they thought would probably fail. They did this because they believed in the cause and wanted to see if they could revive electric cars.
While there are a variety of factors that have lead to the renaissance in electric vehicles we are seeing today, it’s tough to argue that Tesla isn’t a huge part of it. By proving that electric vehicles could not only be built, but could also be very desirable, automakers were left without excuses. Even regulators wouldn’t be able to force the issue if somebody hadn’t come along and proved that it could be done instead of making excuses.
Today, automakers are falling all over themselves to show their electric chops when just a little over a decade ago they were sneaking EVs off in the night to go destroy them. Without the ability of small players to communicate directly with the public, none of this might have happened at all. To this day, we could have been sitting here listening to the automakers excuses instead of being able to go to a dealer and drive away with an electric model.
We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what movements are about to pop up in the world and change things. We don’t have any idea what innovations and what freedom we might miss out on without net neutrality. Either way, we would be fools to let the open internet go away after all it has done for us in the past.