Neutrality by Any Other Name…

by on March 6, 2007 · 22 comments

I know it’s just hideously trite for my very first post on TLF to be about net neutrality, but there it is. Let it go.

I’m taking an (unintentionally) hilarious political writing class right now, so something that’s been on my mind is issue framing. Framing network pricing structures as an issue of “neutrality” has been phenomenally successful, because neutrality is a concept that is intuitively appealing. For our part, there have been sort of clumsy efforts to shift the framing by adding “regulation” to the end of it, so it’s net-neutrality-regulation-this or net-neutrality-regulation-that, but it’s a bit of a mouthful and it doesn’t really solve the problem.

So I tried to come up with something better, or at least more rhetorically effective, and I think there’s a case to be made for “network price controls,” which is basically what we’re talking about. I know it certainly doesn’t cover all the philosophical problems one might have with mandated neutrality, but it certainly covers the core of the economic problem.

Just think of the time we’ll save! Instead of saying:

“Yes, well, neutrality may seem superficially appealing, but it will create disincentives in technology investment, broadband deployment, and higher speed transmissions, all of which we’re totally going to need when the exaflood comes, not to mention the subsequent yottabyte flood that will follow once we figure out how to actually send people over the Internet or whatever,”

we can just say:

“Price controls cause shortages,”

which most people pretty well already know. And for the folks who don’t know, mention long lines at gas stations and how network price controls are sort of the equivalent of charging the same amount whether you’re filling up a Honda or a Hummer, and you’ll still come in 10-15 seconds under where you’d be with the exaflood.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I know what you mean. When I took a Political Science class, most of the students around me found it easier to understand my arguments because rather than flowing into jargon or extraneous detail, my responses would often be like this:

    “Marxism has nothing to do with this, and doesn’t explain it. The terrorists were rich, not poor, so clearly by Marxist standards they weren’t oppressed. They did what they did out of hatred and that’s the only motive that makes sense.”

    Meanwhile, the class Marxist is ranting and fuming in a language that even the professor can’t understand most of the time, and half the students are nodding at me, “makes sense.

    Most of the extra explanation is lost on the average person anyway. They probably wouldn’t know what to think of the extra details.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    I know what you mean. When I took a Political Science class, most of the students around me found it easier to understand my arguments because rather than flowing into jargon or extraneous detail, my responses would often be like this:

    “Marxism has nothing to do with this, and doesn’t explain it. The terrorists were rich, not poor, so clearly by Marxist standards they weren’t oppressed. They did what they did out of hatred and that’s the only motive that makes sense.”

    Meanwhile, the class Marxist is ranting and fuming in a language that even the professor can’t understand most of the time, and half the students are nodding at me, “makes sense.

    Most of the extra explanation is lost on the average person anyway. They probably wouldn’t know what to think of the extra details.

  • http://www.mobilediner.com Chris Parandian

    Nice post… Industry needs to embark on a rebranding campaign.

  • http://www.mobilediner.com Chris Parandian

    Nice post… Industry needs to embark on a rebranding campaign.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Good idear. I usually refer to it as “public utility regulation of broadband.” That at least connotes things to people familiar with regulation.

    I hasten to add that proponents of network price controls will take a cue from Chris and see your post as part of an insidious corporate rebranding campaign, you insdious corporate rebrander.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Good idear. I usually refer to it as “public utility regulation of broadband.” That at least connotes things to people familiar with regulation.

    I hasten to add that proponents of network price controls will take a cue from Chris and see your post as part of an insidious corporate rebranding campaign, you insdious corporate rebrander.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The trouble with “price controls” as a slogan for free market Internet is two fold: 1) It doesn’t adequately capture the issue; and 2) It’s a conservative buzz phrase that doesn’t resonate with the average citizen. Liberals love price controls, and Centrists kinda do or kinda don’t, depending.

    If the goal is to communicate the issue to the people in the center who haven’t made up their minds, “price controls” doesn’t do it.

    But I do agree that the anti-regulation crowd has done an abysmal job of the grass-roots game. That’s not a traditional strength of the Telcos, and it sure is showing. There is enough support for NN on the part of the great unwashed that some sort of legislation is inevitable; it’s a radioactive issue for Reps in swing districts already.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The trouble with “price controls” as a slogan for free market Internet is two fold: 1) It doesn’t adequately capture the issue; and 2) It’s a conservative buzz phrase that doesn’t resonate with the average citizen. Liberals love price controls, and Centrists kinda do or kinda don’t, depending.

    If the goal is to communicate the issue to the people in the center who haven’t made up their minds, “price controls” doesn’t do it.

    But I do agree that the anti-regulation crowd has done an abysmal job of the grass-roots game. That’s not a traditional strength of the Telcos, and it sure is showing. There is enough support for NN on the part of the great unwashed that some sort of legislation is inevitable; it’s a radioactive issue for Reps in swing districts already.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Conceptually, I favor the ideal of “net neutrality”. As you are undoubtedly aware this issues is extremely complex. Fortunately, for me, Richard B. has done a very good job at explaining the shortcoming of tossing out the phrase “price controls”.

    Net Neutrality, to me, is NOT about price control, it is about how the flow of data (roadway} is managed. While no one likes to be regulated, at a fundamental level, a degree of regulation is necessary for society to operate. For example, to use a road analogy, we drive on the right hand side of the road and we do not drive 60MPH through a school zone.

    In terms of the internet, lets assume that it is a toll road owned by a variety of private entities. Each entity can own a segment of road and/or individual lanes within that road. When I get on the internet, I would like to pay ONE fee to get onto the internet and have my packets go through in a standardized (neutral) fashion. Since many private entities own segments of the internet toll road, they could be paid on a prorated basis.

    To me, those who oppose net-neutrality are advocating a process where a toll is collected every time you cross a “property” boundary. Not only that, the entity who owns that segment of internet road can establish their own rules for who could or could not enter that road segment. In the extreme, the use of this private property right, can be counter productive. AOL for example has used proprietary interfaces which has caused interoperability problems.

    I recognize, that property rights exist, however there needs to be a degree of recognition that for the internet to function effectively, a degree of regulation is needed. The rub of course is: How Much???????????

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14019452 Steve R.

    Conceptually, I favor the ideal of “net neutrality”. As you are undoubtedly aware this issues is extremely complex. Fortunately, for me, Richard B. has done a very good job at explaining the shortcoming of tossing out the phrase “price controls”.

    Net Neutrality, to me, is NOT about price control, it is about how the flow of data (roadway} is managed. While no one likes to be regulated, at a fundamental level, a degree of regulation is necessary for society to operate. For example, to use a road analogy, we drive on the right hand side of the road and we do not drive 60MPH through a school zone.

    In terms of the internet, lets assume that it is a toll road owned by a variety of private entities. Each entity can own a segment of road and/or individual lanes within that road. When I get on the internet, I would like to pay ONE fee to get onto the internet and have my packets go through in a standardized (neutral) fashion. Since many private entities own segments of the internet toll road, they could be paid on a prorated basis.

    To me, those who oppose net-neutrality are advocating a process where a toll is collected every time you cross a “property” boundary. Not only that, the entity who owns that segment of internet road can establish their own rules for who could or could not enter that road segment. In the extreme, the use of this private property right, can be counter productive. AOL for example has used proprietary interfaces which has caused interoperability problems.

    I recognize, that property rights exist, however there needs to be a degree of recognition that for the internet to function effectively, a degree of regulation is needed. The rub of course is: How Much???????????

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    we can just say:

    Unregulated monopolies lead to loss of freedoms

    Or

    we can say:

    Corporate control of basic public infrastructure leads to loss of individual freedoms

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    we can just say:

    Unregulated monopolies lead to loss of freedoms

    Or

    we can say:

    Corporate control of basic public infrastructure leads to loss of individual freedoms

  • Karl Marx

    enema_foundry:

    Keep up your blind devotion to the cause!

    Love, Karl

  • Karl Marx

    enema_foundry:

    Keep up your blind devotion to the cause!

    Love, Karl

  • http://suspendedconversation.blogspot.com Chris Riley

    I want to tag on here and criticize your analogy. You’re opposing only one definition of net neutrality, the tightest one that very few people actually support. This isn’t a question of letting people fill their 14 gal Honda or their 35 gal Hummer gas tanks for a flat fee of $60. This is a question of charging the Honda civic driver $2.30 per gallon of gas, and charging the Toyota corolla driver $4.30 per gallon of gas, because the Honda corporation pays $25 million per year to Exxon behind the scenes. Now, all of a sudden, nobody wants to drive Toyotas. And heaven help the guy who wants to start a new car company but can’t compete with the gas discounts of his competitors. To the consumer it’s like releasing a compact sedan that only gets 16 mpg. Who would buy that?

    That having been said: as one who has thought a great deal about framing in technology law, kudos to you for your efforts. Now, please excuse me while I search for ways to undercut you.

  • http://suspendedconversation.blogspot.com Chris Riley

    I want to tag on here and criticize your analogy. You’re opposing only one definition of net neutrality, the tightest one that very few people actually support. This isn’t a question of letting people fill their 14 gal Honda or their 35 gal Hummer gas tanks for a flat fee of $60. This is a question of charging the Honda civic driver $2.30 per gallon of gas, and charging the Toyota corolla driver $4.30 per gallon of gas, because the Honda corporation pays $25 million per year to Exxon behind the scenes. Now, all of a sudden, nobody wants to drive Toyotas. And heaven help the guy who wants to start a new car company but can’t compete with the gas discounts of his competitors. To the consumer it’s like releasing a compact sedan that only gets 16 mpg. Who would buy that?

    That having been said: as one who has thought a great deal about framing in technology law, kudos to you for your efforts. Now, please excuse me while I search for ways to undercut you.

  • Bushwick Bill

    Brooke, I don’t think that most people have the same instinctive revulsion to the phrase “price controls” that those of us with econ/libertarian backgrounds have.

    In fact, for many people who are always struggling to pay bills at the end of the month or carry a credit card balance that’s just a bit too high, the “novel” phrase price control might just sound like a good idea.

  • Bushwick Bill

    Brooke, I don’t think that most people have the same instinctive revulsion to the phrase “price controls” that those of us with econ/libertarian backgrounds have.

    In fact, for many people who are always struggling to pay bills at the end of the month or carry a credit card balance that’s just a bit too high, the “novel” phrase price control might just sound like a good idea.

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