Many of the columnists at geek-centric websites such as Techdirt, ArsTechnica and BoingBoing have come down in favor of State intervention in the form of “net neutrality.” Ironically however, they also lament other kinds of regulations including censorship and privacy violations. For instance, in the poll currently running on Techdirt’s front page, they ask what concerns you as a netizen the most. In addition to “net neutrality” the idea of “government spying on phone and internet” is also an option.
The irony is that if “net neutrality” as lobbied by many of the PAC’s, content providers, politicians and Slashdot/Digg users is legislated, then the FCC and other agencies will essentially be allowed to spy on all Internet traffic. In fact, the FCC – the same governmental organization charged with censoring media – would have to monitor every data bit in order to determine if any VoIP conversation had lower quality, if all email was routed the most efficiently, if any video had been tampered with by an ISP. Ad infinitum.The double-speak is painfully obvious. The EFF has sued AT&T and other telecoms for allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on all of our phone conversations, emails, instant messages and now even social networks (see Wired magazine’s coverage for more). Yet, to logistically monitor all of the data, the FCC would need to do precisely what privacy advocates have accused the NSA of doing. And oddly enough, the EFF also supports “net neutrality.”
Aside from State intervention in general, the biggest problem surrounding this issue of “net neutrality” is that of economics, and more precisely scarcity. Arguably, the inherent value of price discrimination based upon bandwidth scarcity is no different than the various postage rates used to deliver mail. While the packages are all the same, the speed and quality at which they are delivered is continually affected by the supply and demand of the provider’s capacity. Thus, a multi-level price structure based upon ever-changing variables ensures that both land and wireless providers’ resources are allocated in the most efficient, productive and profitable manner.
The Only Long-Term Solution
It should again be mentioned that the telecom providers are also at fault for having used State-granted monopolies and subsidies to protect their rent-seeking and inefficient business models. And in seeing this injustice, traditionally laissez faire nerds have unfortunately become armchair regulators.
The easiest solution to the quagmire is also the most politically unacceptable: deregulate the entire telecom provider industry, break up the State-enforced monopolies, abolish the FCC and return all communications to the private endeavors of free enterprise.
So while some anti-net neutrality commentators are indeed sycophants of corporate interests, I can assure you that I am not. And in an effort to shine a light on a free-market solution, I would be more than happy to publicly debate this issue with a moderator of your choice.
Note: to quash a couple of urban legends: no, the Internet was not originally developed to survive a disastrous war. Charles Herzfeld, who was director of ARPA at the time, has noted that it was designed to effectively and efficiently manage and utilize relatively scarce computing resources across the country. And contrary to popular history, routing Internet traffic was never a Nirvana that withstood the pressures of business economics (see the spat between Cogent and Level 3).