ANOTHER LOOK AT NET NEUTRALITY

By Mike Cronin

So, the FCC decided to end Net Neutrality, and now there is an uproar. The main objection seems to be that now internet service providers (ISPs) like Cox, Comcast, and Verizon will be able to charge whatever they want for their services, block whatever sites they like, and throttle unprofitable traffic in favor of profitable traffic.   Net Neutrality prevented ISPs from doing this…at the cost of allowing the government to decide what private businesses did with their own property – namely the cables, switches, servers, and fiber optic lines they send their signals over. When people are allowed to own private property, but it can only be used in a manner specified by government, you have fascism.

Ending Net Neutrality is taking a step back from fascism, but it does not alleviate the concerns of individual/residential ISP customers.  Now we are back to the big private ISPs being able to run roughshod over us and treat us like our business doesn’t matter, right?  How can our business not matter to them? (Actually, it does matter, just not so much at the individual level, but as a mass.)  Even so, that’s not the real problem.

The real problem with internet service is that the ISPs, through agreements with various governments and established back in the pre-broadband days when they were just cable TV providers, usually have local monopolies.  That means if you want broadband internet service via cable, you usually only have one ISP option in your area.  That means you generally can’t take your business elsewhere if you are dissatisfied – which means you have little or no leverage over the ISP, unless you are willing, and financially prepared, to take them to court.

In short, Net Neutrality was a hackneyed, fascist government intrusion necessitated as a “solution” to a more basic hackneyed, “crony-capitalist” (i.e. corporatist) government problem.

Here’s an analogy. Let’s say you buy your groceries at Safeway.  They disappoint you in some fashion, so you decide to shop at Super Walmart instead, then you switch to Fry’s (or whatever).  If grocery stores were like ISPs, there would not be any other stores in your area. Safeway (for example) would be in cahoots with your local government, and you would only have one choice. Now, suppose more and more people complain to the government about how terrible the service is at the local Safeway store. The store charges different prices based on whether a given customer buys in bulk or not. In other cases, the Safeway refused to carry some customers’ favorite items, because they are obscure or hard to obtain and don’t sell at a profit. The local government decides it has to do something about the problem.  They enact “Grocery Neutrality.” They tell Safeway that they can’t discount prices to customers who buy in bulk (or they must sell to everyone at the bulk discount price, regardless of how much they actually buy). They also tell the Safeway that they must order anything a customer wants, unless it’s illegal, regardless if it will generate profit or not. Would it not be simpler and more in keeping with the spirit of a free country for the local government, instead of dictating to Safeway what it can and cannot do with its own property, to simply end Safeway’s monopoly and let in any grocery company?

The same is true of ISPs. The solution to the problem of ISPs treating smaller customers poorly (because the ISPs have a government-sponsored monopoly over the local market) isn’t more government interference in the form of Net Neutrality, it’s monopoly dissolution!

ON NET NEUTRALITY

By Mike Cronin

Net Neutrality is in the news again.  What’s the big deal?

The current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai (A Trump appointee) has proposed to roll back Net Neutrality rules. Net Neutrality is a legal doctrine that says that Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, such as Cox, Comcast, or AT&T, must treat all data equally, i.e. neutrally. In other words, it bans ISPs from blocking, slowing down, or accelerating some internet traffic over other traffic.  Some examples:

  1. Net Neutrality bans a provider, such as Comcast, from blocking or “throttling” (i.e. slowing) traffic that originated from a competitor.
  2. Net Neutrality bans a provider from blocking access to political sites it might disagree with.
  3. Net Neutrality prohibits ISPs from prioritizing streaming media over email.

Advocates of Net Neutrality believe that such laws are necessary to ensure “freedom of access” to information, i.e. that we consumers should all have exactly the same amount of access to “get on the web,” and we should all have exactly the same access to bandwidth while we are there. As a consumer, that sounds pretty good, right? (76% of Americans believe it does.) So, what’s wrong with that?

The advocates are evading context. Regardless of how important, useful, and even critical the internet has become, it just isn’t theirs, nor is it the government’s, to control. As it turns out, what we think of as the “Internet” has both “public domain” and private components.  The computer languages and protocols used to create and link websites and to transfer data “packets” are in the public domain, i.e. their creators gave them to the world.  On the other hand, all of the computers, servers, cables, fiber optic lines, modems, routers, etc. that data is hosted on and travels over belong to their owners – the ISPs, web hosting companies, content providers, etc. and consumers – us. In other words, the physical components of the Internet are primarily composed of private property.

Imagine that in 1789, when the Constitution was ratified, the government instituted Publishing Neutrality right along with the First Amendment. Publishing Neutrality says that publishing firms can’t prioritize publishing large corporate orders (such as text books for a school system) over small orders (such as an obscure book on pet lizard grooming), and they have to charge the same amount per page for each book they print (regardless of the economy of scale or the material used).  Such a law would have destroyed the publishing industry, and would have done nothing to further the right of free speech.

Advocates fear that without Net Neutrality, ISPs will act unfairly and consumers will pay the price. I’m not in a hurry to have worse service or higher prices myself, but the alternative, Net Neutrality, is the government, primarily in the form of the FCC, telling ISPs what they can and cannot do with their own private property. That is a hallmark of fascism. For that reason alone, we should seek to end it.

Suggested reading:

Pro Net Neutrality bias:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/fcc-net-neutrality.html

https://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now

Anti-Net Neutrality bias

https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2008-winter/net-neutrality/