The ‘Contradictory Ideals’ of Internet for Everyone campaign

by on June 26, 2008 · 11 comments

Beyond what Harper already said about it, I was searching for the right words to express how silly I find the far-fetched rhetorical B.S. being flung about to describe this quixotic new “Broadband for Everyone” crusade. And then I found this great little comment by Steve Boriss over at The Future of News blog. He really nails the utopian silliness that animates this movement in his essay, “Net neutrality proponents’ ideals as contradictory as French Revolution’s“:

Government regulation always begins with a call from those who claim they are only trying to right some hard-to-argue-against wrongs, but whose consequences are poorly thought out. Today we learn of a new such party, InternetForEveryone.org, which has a mission so contradictory that it almost makes my head explode. Their ideals call to mind the French Revolutionists, who called for “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” not realizing that liberty and equality are incompatible — that making people equal requires liberty-suppressing force. The new group calls for guaranteed high speed Internet access for everyone (a basic right of all Americans, they say), lower usage prices, more competition, and more innovation. Tell me, if we force Internet providers to give access to everyone, then force them to charge less than the marketplace tells them they should, where will the money come from for innovation? And what would happen to the potential profits that might entice others to join in the competition? Guess it will have to come from taxpayers and that government will have to run the show. InternetForEveryone.org claims to be neutral on the net, but it is surely not neutral on government — they want a lot more of it.

Exactly. It’s ‘something-for-nothing’ economics meets utopian egalitarianism as applied to broadband. But, as Steve notes, there is no free lunch. Every time I debate one of the people or groups involved in this movement, I always ask questions like: What about incentives to invest and innovate? What role do they play in your model? Where is the risk capital going to come from to build these high-fixed cost networks going forward? How will those networks be upgraded over time? And so on.

And they never have any good answers. To the extent they have any answers at all, it always seems to come back to the idea of treating broadband networks like a lazy public utility. You know, because we’ve had so much success with those! And yet, this crowd seems wants to paint a revisionist history of public utilities and try to convince us that we are just ONE MORE muni fiber or muni wi-fi experiment away from getting it right! Uh-huh, sure we are. Meanwhile, taxpayers are bailing out those past failed experiments all over America right now.

The fundamental problem with the entire Net neutrality movement can be summarized as follows: They obsess about investment and innovation at the margin of networks but spend little time thinking about the preconditions for serious innovation and investment at the core of networks. Government micro-management ain’t ever going to get us where we need to be in that regard.

  • Mike Wendy

    Adam hits it, especially with his last paragpah. According to Lessig et al, “innovation at the edges” is all that really matters.

    Lessig fails to admit that much of that edgy innovation couldn’t have occured without bedrock innovation in the first instance. It informs the entire dynamic of the ICT industry – co-existence; bedrock working with edgy – this tension, of which “proprietary” innovation represents no small part, must be allowed to flourish.

    Sadly, at least from the rhetoric (and there’s been much)NN believers – as well as others associated with that unruly group – would prefer that things “proprietary” and its underlying incetive system simply disappear.

  • Mike Wendy

    Adam hits it, especially with his last paragpah. According to Lessig et al, “innovation at the edges” is all that really matters.

    Lessig fails to admit that much of that edgy innovation couldn’t have occured without bedrock innovation in the first instance. It informs the entire dynamic of the ICT industry – co-existence; bedrock working with edgy – this tension, of which “proprietary” innovation represents no small part, must be allowed to flourish.

    Sadly, at least from the rhetoric (and there’s been much)NN believers – as well as others associated with that unruly group – would prefer that things “proprietary” and its underlying incetive system simply disappear.

  • Ryan Radia

    Great post. If the cost of providing Internet for everyone outweighed the benefits, it would emerge on its own. Unfortunately, the FCC is trying to encumber the 2.1Ghz band to spur the creation of a network that’s clearly an inefficient use of the airwaves. Of course the NN types consistently ignore the fact that entrenching the Internet in its current incarnation means stagnation at the core of networks. Yet the drive for muni-broadband boondoggles persists unabated.

  • Ryan Radia

    Great post. If the cost of providing Internet for everyone outweighed the benefits, it would emerge on its own. Unfortunately, the FCC is trying to encumber the 2.1Ghz band to spur the creation of a network that’s clearly an inefficient use of the airwaves. Of course the NN types consistently ignore the fact that entrenching the Internet in its current incarnation means stagnation at the core of networks. Yet the drive for muni-broadband boondoggles persists unabated.

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