Dumb Pipes, a Dumb Idea: Net Neutrality as 21st Century Socialism

by on April 2, 2008 · 8 comments

This week’s C:\Spin (#197), CEI’s tech policy newsletter, casts net neutrality in the appropriate light. Calling out proponents of neutrality for what they are–political predators–my colleague Wayne Crews lays bare the misconceptions and wrong-headed thinking that make up the neutrality debate:

“You know who owns your pipes? Your customers. You have no right to set up a tollbooth.”

- Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), September 17, 2007

Sen. Dorgan’s statement refers to the broadband infrastructure built up by the telcos and their rivals. It lays the “net neutrality” issue bare: if you’re an infrastructure owner or Internet service provider, government people like him shall dictate your relationships with the world at large.

Welcome to infrastructure socialism, 21st century style.

Online activists teamed with superstars like Google seek a perpetual “open access” business model imposed on Internet service. Last summer’s master stroke: to link future wireless spectrum auctions to accommodating the policy.

Comcast recently received letters of inquiry from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to a petition filed by a coalition averse to what it regards as unjustified data discrimination against file-sharers. They seek fines in the millions.

Barack Obama, unveiling his “innovation agenda” late last year, pledged, “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality. Because once providers start to privilege some applications or web sites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out, and we all lose.”

Check out the rest at CEI’s website where you can also read back issues of C:\Spin or sign up to receive them in your email inbox.

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

    Cord you wrote: “Sen. Dorgan’s statement refers to the broadband infrastructure built up by the telcos and their rivals. It lays the “net neutrality” issue bare: if you’re an infrastructure owner or Internet service provider, government people like him shall dictate your relationships with the world at large. (emphasis added)

    While your statement is true, there is a flip side which seldom disclosed when denouncing the “evils” of government control. The flip side are the “evils” of unencumbered corporate power.

    We have already seen evidence that corporations will act in arbitrary and capricious ways that violate due process and pursue opaque business methods. These are well documented on websites such as TechDirt and Infoworld’s Gripe Line. There is an old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This is true of both government and corporations. Bashing only government gets us nowhere, we need to explore how to formulate a reasonable compromise.

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

    Cord you wrote: “Sen. Dorgan’s statement refers to the broadband infrastructure built up by the telcos and their rivals. It lays the “net neutrality” issue bare: if you’re an infrastructure owner or Internet service provider, government people like him shall dictate your relationships with the world at large. (emphasis added)

    While your statement is true, there is a flip side which seldom disclosed when denouncing the “evils” of government control. The flip side are the “evils” of unencumbered corporate power.

    We have already seen evidence that corporations will act in arbitrary and capricious ways that violate due process and pursue opaque business methods. These are well documented on websites such as TechDirt and Infoworld’s Gripe Line. There is an old adage “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This is true of both government and corporations. Bashing only government gets us nowhere, we need to explore how to formulate a reasonable compromise.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/contributors/ryan_radia.php Ryan Radia

    Steve, corporations are far from perfect, and some can act downright evil. But choosing which corporations to patronize is significantly easier than choosing which federal government to endure.

    Plus, when a corporation is being evil, the public often figures it out and can actively decide to switch to a less evil company. Google even uses “Don’t Be Evil” as a marketing mantra, and in my opinion Google has lived up to its promise better than most.

    We should bash corporations when they do things we don’t like, and libertarians aren’t typically corporate apologists. Still, firms have a market incentive to not be evil, unlike governments, and few corporations succeed in the long run by engaging in evil activities.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/contributors/ryan_radia.php Ryan Radia

    Steve, corporations are far from perfect, and some can act downright evil. But choosing which corporations to patronize is significantly easier than choosing which federal government to endure.

    Plus, when a corporation is being evil, the public often figures it out and can actively decide to switch to a less evil company. Google even uses “Don’t Be Evil” as a marketing mantra, and in my opinion Google has lived up to its promise better than most.

    We should bash corporations when they do things we don’t like, and libertarians aren’t typically corporate apologists. Still, firms have a market incentive to not be evil, unlike governments, and few corporations succeed in the long run by engaging in evil activities.

  • v

    This seems unfair. I’m skeptical of network neutrality because Washington is so bad at tech policy, and Big Copyright will find some way to lobby in its own interests.

    However, there’s a difference between telling an ISP that it doesn’t own its pipes and telling an ISP that it can’t block or throttle certain kinds of traffic. The problem is, it’s a distinction the legislators won’t get right.

  • v

    This seems unfair. I’m skeptical of network neutrality because Washington is so bad at tech policy, and Big Copyright will find some way to lobby in its own interests.

    However, there’s a difference between telling an ISP that it doesn’t own its pipes and telling an ISP that it can’t block or throttle certain kinds of traffic. The problem is, it’s a distinction the legislators won’t get right.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    Private property is private property. So no more eminent domain powers for telcos to install fiber through private property, right? If a farmer owns 40 acres in the path of a 1000-mile cable, can he now charge what the market will bear?

    Hook me up with a cable that was installed without using eminent domain, and I won’t ask for net neutrality on it.

  • http://linuxworld.com/community/ Don Marti

    Private property is private property. So no more eminent domain powers for telcos to install fiber through private property, right? If a farmer owns 40 acres in the path of a 1000-mile cable, can he now charge what the market will bear?

    Hook me up with a cable that was installed without using eminent domain, and I won’t ask for net neutrality on it.

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