Net Neutrality is About Corporate Interests, Spokesmodel Sez

by on October 26, 2009 · 13 comments

Some people have labored under the impression that “net neutrality” regulation was about the government stepping in to ensure that large corporations would not control the Internet. Now that the issue is truly joined, it is clear (as exhibited in this Wall Street Journal story) that the debate is about one set of corporate interests battling another set of corporate interests about the Internet, each seeking to protect or strengthen its business model. The FCC is surfing the debate pursuing a greater role for itself, meaning more budget and power.

Tim Lee’s paper, The Durable Internet, dispells the idea that owners of Internet infrastructure can actually control the Internet. The better approach to “net neutrality” is to let Internet users decide what they want from their ISPs and to let ISPs and content companies do unmediated battle with one another to create and capture the greatest value from the Internet ecosystem. If the FCC were to reduce its power by freeing up more wireless spectrum—either selling it as property or dedicating it to commons treatment—competition to provide Internet service would strengthen consumers’ hands.

These are notions I have tried to get across in some recent television interviews, which you’ll find after the jump.

In this first one, I say, “This is governmental tinkering with a marketplace that is working really well and growing,” which comes off as slightly glib. TV talk is extemporaneous, of course. I tend to lean Julian Sanchez’ way, believing that competition is insufficient in many respects. This is a product of FCC policy as much as anything, of course, and even the situation we’ve got is better than throwing up our hands and giving the FCC regulatory authority over network management forevermore.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    You are a media superstar! An Oprah appearance can't be far behind.

  • http://www.timothyblee.com/ Tim Lee

    Go Jim Harper from Cato University!

  • zeroshade

    All this article does is prove that people don't actually understand what Net Neutrality is and as a result spread false information inciting fear.

    Net Neutrality would PREVENT the ISP's from giving preferential treatment based on content. It will give MORE power to the consumers because the big telecom companies would not be able to decide for the consumers what content is allowed on their networks. It keeps the Internet open and ensures the ability to continue to grow.

    As for those against it who insist that this is all hypothetical situations used to manipulate people into believing Net Neutrality, an example can be made of Comcast who was CAUGHT censoring traffic. They chose which applications went through the network faster than others. So that is proof right there that this isn't “fixing a non-existent problem” the problem has been brewing and only now is finally showing it's head that it definitely is happening. How can anyone be against prohibiting the companies from locking down the internet for us? Don't be against Net Neutrality simply because it's “government regulation” actually do your research and see what it is about. Make your own decision. Do you want your ISP to decide what you can see and do on the internet? or do you like being able to choose for yourself?

  • Jim Harper

    @zeroshade I appreciate the comment, but I disagree with your take.

    What actually happened in the Comcast Kerfuffle is well documented many places, including on this blog. It is true that Comcast ham-handedly degraded BitTorrrent for a period of time—something my colleagues and I here criticized, from which you can infer that we don’t treat it as hypothetical—but it’s also true that consumer outrage stopped them and brought them to a compromise with BitTorrent about how to handle BT traffic on cable infrastructure *before* the FCC got involved.

    Your stated preference is for government to protect consumers, which is wonderful in theory. But the actual result would be for government to supplant consumers. I’m more leery of government control of communications infrastructure than corporate control because there is a big difference between ownership and control on networks, a point of Tim Lee’s paper, which I’ll recommend again that you read.

    When you address the points in it, points I’ve made in this post, or points I’ve made elsewhere, I’ll be less inclined to turn the advice about “doing your research” back on you.

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  • http://blog.infinitemonkeysblog.com Jim_Lakely

    zeroshade,

    I've long asked those who want the government to impose blanket net neutrality principles by force of law to answer this simple question: Where is the demonstrable harm to consumers that justifies such broad government regulation? I've yet to hear a compelling answer, and yours is also lame.

    Comcast was “CAUGHT censoring traffic”? You might want to try using more precise language. Comcast censored nothing, but slowed down a tiny, tiny percentage of bitTorrent users who were hogging bandwidth and threatening the quality of service of the vast, vast majority of Comcast's customers. That's not “censoring.” That's managing a privately owned network. Even Genachowski doesn't think that should be disallowed, if his “reasonable management practices” statement is legit. And that's the trouble here.

    The definition of “reasonable” will be a nebulous thing continually redefined by the FCC on a “case-by-=case basis,” in Genachowski's words. In essence, the FCC is poised to regulate the Internet not on any reliable standard by which the industry can predict, but the way the Supreme Court famously defined pornography: “We'll know it when we see it.” If you think the kind of investment and business planning that has created the wonders on the Internet we all now take for granted will continue at the same pace under such a regime, you are quite naive.

    Jim Harper did a great job in the limited time he has to talk about this issue in just a few minutes of air time. This is not about empowering people, but empowering government — and then letting the lobbyists for the big companies spend gobs of money (that should go to innovation) trying to continually rig the game in their favor. It's better to simply let the markets work, especially since the justification for additional regulation is placed on such a thin reed. Internet companies should be more concerned about pleasing their customers, and attracting more, than gaining the favor of bureaucrats.

  • http://blog.infinitemonkeysblog.com Jim_Lakely

    zeroshade,

    I've long asked those who want the government to impose blanket net neutrality principles by force of law to answer this simple question: Where is the demonstrable harm to consumers that justifies such broad government regulation? I've yet to hear a compelling answer, and yours is also lame.

    Comcast was “CAUGHT censoring traffic”? You might want to try using more precise language. Comcast censored nothing, but slowed down a tiny, tiny percentage of bitTorrent users who were hogging bandwidth and threatening the quality of service of the vast, vast majority of Comcast's customers. That's not “censoring.” That's managing a privately owned network. Even Genachowski doesn't think that should be disallowed, if his “reasonable management practices” statement is legit. And that's the trouble here.

    The definition of “reasonable” will be a nebulous thing continually redefined by the FCC on a “case-by-=case basis,” in Genachowski's words. In essence, the FCC is poised to regulate the Internet not on any reliable standard by which the industry can predict, but the way the Supreme Court famously defined pornography: “We'll know it when we see it.” If you think the kind of investment and business planning that has created the wonders on the Internet we all now take for granted will continue at the same pace under such a regime, you are quite naive.

    Jim Harper did a great job in the limited time he has to talk about this issue in just a few minutes of air time. This is not about empowering people, but empowering government — and then letting the lobbyists for the big companies spend gobs of money (that should go to innovation) trying to continually rig the game in their favor. It's better to simply let the markets work, especially since the justification for additional regulation is placed on such a thin reed. Internet companies should be more concerned about pleasing their customers, and attracting more, than gaining the favor of bureaucrats.

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