Saturday, September 26, 2009

Against Net Neutrality Regulation

For the longest time, I didn't know what exactly to think about "Net Neutrality", the attempt to get the Federal Government to set up rules to ensure fair and open access to the internet. This has been a bit of a bother, since as a techie and someone who set up "Austin Tech Republicans", I probably need an answer and not appear clueless on an 'important' issue. On one hand, it sounds so benign, sensible and 'the right thing'. But, in fact, despite my concern about information, internet technology, truth and freedom ... I just DIDNT CARE about the issue. Not even enough to form a position.

My 'attempt to give a damn' algorithm just never got in gear enough to form a conclusion.

Kim Commando (AM radio show for PC geeks) today came up with the answer that settled in my mind the correct position, and confirmed that perhaps my complacency wasn't misplaced after all: She expressed the view that 'net neutrality' wasnt needed because market forces were doing fine.

"If it aint broke dont fix it" - is what she said. And that IMHO brilliantly settled it in my mind.

All this time I was puzzling vaguely over what problem there is to solve, and she cut the Gordian
knot: There is no problem.

Net Neutrality supporters claim to want to prevent the carriers from preferring hosted content or blocking the full internet. Here's the reality check on that: Every attempt by carriers to do exactly that have been a huge and massive FLOP. Remember CompuServe? Prodigy? AtHome? You dont? Neither do I. These prior iterations of 'walled garden' content providers have been absorbed by "The Net". We only remember AOL because back in the day (mid-1990s) they went through the process of becoming a pure and more open internet provider. They tore down their own wall.

If my carrier (RoadRunner) pulled stunts on me that put up walls or restricted the full internet, I'd go elsewhere pronto. Thankfully, high speed has dueling technologies in DSL and cable modems, so the switch is not arduous. Not only does information want to be liberated, but also people want access to the internet without roadblock. Free market consumer choice has run off the 'walled garden' providers long ago and opened up the internet.

So 'net neutrality' is really yet another feel-good regulation to tell companies to not do something that the marketplace has already voted off the Island. My "non-position" was really humility in thinking that I must be missing something on such a 'serious' issue if I couldn't figure out what the big problem was to fix. Wrong! There is no problem to solve! Problems don't need to be real for a Federal regulation to be proposed! As Menken put it:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - Henry Louis Mencken

Given the potential for initially benign regulation to gather moss and malignant aspects, the "Net Neutrality" rules prevent no real existing harm now while setting us up for regulatory mischief later of far greater consequence.

So I'm onboard with my Congressman Lamar Smith on this: "I want a vibrant Internet just like they do. ... Our disagreement is about how to achieve that. They say let the government dictate it. . . I urge my colleagues to reject government regulation of the Internet." - Rep Lamar Smith, 2006

Thanks to Kim Commando, another annoying PC problem is solved!


Dan McDonald said...

I agree completely. ISPs have been trying for the past 10 years to figure out a way to monetize Quality of Service (preferential treatment to some customers). To date, they have been unable, since backbone bandwidth is so cheap now and will continue to be in the future. As there is no problem, and abundant competition, I fail to see the need for "Net Neutrality".

Freedom's Truth said...

Progress and Freedom Foundation has an article on net neutrality, indicating the legal definitions used can be a prelude to taxation: