Net Neutrality loses court decision.
The FCC just lost a court decision over Net Neutrality, a regulation stating that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be required by Federal Law to give equal bandwidth to all websites. For example, with Net Neutrality, Comcast would be required by law to allocate the same bandwidth for its viewers viewing say Microsoft.com as viewers viewing some small political commentary site. ISPs also would not be allowed to limit bandwidth for certain types of sites or applications such as VOIP or file sharing sites.
Supporters of Net Neutrality include a whose who of often anti-establishment bloggers, techies and many well-meaning geeks. The supporters are generally good people with good points and a good goal. They want to see more broadband penetration in the US and want independence preserved.
In this case, the Net Neutrality supporters have their heart in the right place but are more focused on goal than the big picture ramifications of Net Neutrality.
As with most cases of government intervention we have well-meaning people willing to voluntarily give up our rights. I love the saying “People fight and die for freedom then pass laws to take it away.” Why on earth would anyone WANT government to interfere more with the Internet of all things? First of all, its terrible economics. Are our hard earned tax dollars not better spent on something else these days that yet another army of regulators and bureaucrats in government offices? Are our businesses not burdened enough in this economy trying to earn a living without having to worry about yet more rules and regulations to follow?
The Internet has done just fine with relatively little government interference. Furthermore, one needs to realize that when you pass a law that gives the Federal Government more power you are giving up freedom. Little by little, step-by-step, we give up freedom with virtually every law we pass. Why? There are lots of reasons a few relate to 1) failure to think things through, 2) seeing government as the solution to problems and 3) being too lazy or uncreative to think of new solutions.
Freedom = Good, Don’t Forget it
There also tends to be a common case in situations like this where people have not generally thought through their philosophy of how much government they want. Do you want more freedom or less freedom? Do you want more of a totalitarian state or more of a libertarian state? The ironic thing is that many people who promote Net Neutrality are generally anti-establishment and pro-freedom. One of their rallying cries is that without Net Neutrality independent thought will die and blogs will be squashed and only giant corporations will be left. This would be terrible but it’s exactly the opposite of what would actually happen (or is happening). People who dislike authority and feel that Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and EarthLink are run by evil people who wish them ill will may just be right (but I doubt it). My simple question for them is “Do you think the people running the Government are any different?” Do government bureaucrats not harm people or want to increase their personal power as often as corporate executives? Surely few would argue that the corporate world is filled with devils and the halls of government offices with angels. No, generally people are people.
Google versus the IRS
There are evil and good in both sides. However there are two major problems with the government. The first is competence. If Comcast ticked off enough internet users they could be out of business in a week- the government is a lot harder to put out of business (although some certainly have been trying in recent years). Government, in some cases lives up to the stereotype of low quality, overpaid, lazy workers who don’t know how to do their job as well as their civilian counterparts. Who do you think, in general, works harder, a sales executive at Comcast or a PR Exec at the FCC? Where would you find more innovation, the halls of Google or the IRS’s tech office? If your business needed a new website, who would you rather hire to do it; Uncle Sam or a lean mean private tech company? So competence, efficiency and quality are an issue. Yes there are geniuses in government and some excellent and hard working people I know well. Take a look at the web design for WhiteHouse.gov – as a web guy I say hats off to the designer, its a genius piece of code. But lets face it, of the millions of government workers some are not the brightest candles on the cake, there are also some who would not have the job they have in the civilian world. Do we really want these people making decisions rather than civilians? Remember all non-government companies answer to consumers.
Guns, Badges and Jails
The second and much more serious problem with government is that it has a power that companies do not: it can fine and imprison you. Are there bad guys at big ISPs? Yes. In the history of the world however it’s been the bad apples, not in private sector who have caused misery but the bad apples who have badges and guns and jails. Regulation and reduction in freedom is inherently violent. How? Well, if Joe ISP says to the Government the immortal words spoken by every freedom-loving activist “I refuse”. Lets not worry much about whether Joe has a good reason or not the point is that if he refuses enough, he will be fined and eventually go to jail. So one certain result is that Net Neutrality would have people put in jail who would NOT have been in jail without it. Is that what the supporters really want? I’m not saying it would be hundreds or thousands of people, maybe just a dozen. But the point is that thousands would have to comply with the law and that is a reduction in freedom. Oddly many Net Neutrality supporters are reporters. Reporters, by nature, live in the moment, often a lifetime in a hear and now deadline driven existence – reporters are great but lets face it, they don’t often see the forest from the trees. Reporters who support Net Neutrality are thinking of today and their perception that they could lose rights to free speech and free reporting: important concerns. But let me ask those reporters who have been around for a few years and racked up some miles. Is free speech generally better in countries where government has more power or less power?
Good for the Little Guy?
The other ironic thing about the Net Neutrality supporters is that they tend to be anti-corporate as if helping the little guy is their goal. Well, again in general the opposite of what they might want to occur is likely. Give government more power, more enforcement, more authority, more oversight and who benefits? Mom and pop companies? Generally, the bigger the government the more the large players will benefit through lobbyists etc. Sure it was Comcast, a large company that won the FCC suit but please don’t mistake this for meaning that what’s bad for the big guy (Comcast) is good for the little guy. Sometimes increasing government power is a lose-lose: a loss for big companies, and for small companies as well as citizens (and more often than not, the big companies lobby and change things so that they benefit anyway).
Is it really broken?
One of the more odd things about the Net Neutrality argument is the cries from otherwise smart people, often my fellow techie geeks, saying that if Net Neutrality doesn’t pass it will “ruin” blogs and limit free speech and that only Fox News other corporations will control our content. Huh? Is the Internet broken now? Last time I checked there are plenty of blogs and content is doing fine. Keep in mind we DONT have a law now called Net Neutrality and right now, by most accounts, it works fine. Do pro Net Neutrality activists think that this law is so necessary because at some future point all the major IPS will suddenly change their policy? Net Neutrality bills itself as a way to “preserve the free and open Internet”. Well, it looks pretty free now. If it WERE to be in danger whom exactly would you fear most? I don’t know about you but the guys with guns and badges don’t have a great historical track record. Saying that we need to preserve the web by placing draconian new powers to regulate it in the hands of government is like going into a community playground and saying that we need more laws to protect it.
Let the free markets work, if a large ISP starts limiting freedom then the power of the web and blogs and social media should put them out of business
To my friends who support Net Neutrality: think it through. You don’t like big evil companies with bad motives I get it- but is it so broken now in your opinion that you want to give vast powers to the guys with guns and badges who brought us the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, the Wall Street Bailouts and the IRS?
written by Bruce Fenton