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I recently read a comment that Marx is useful to us because his philosophy allows us to easily identify fools and knaves. I’ve personally observed that the net neutrality debate is useful for much the same reason.
The FCC is currently considering a proposal that has many up in arms. Consider this, from the activist group SumOfUs:
Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon want to control what we can and cannot do online — and they’re about to get their wish.
Their lobbyists and lawyers have taken over the FCC — the agency meant to keep them in check. Now, the former lobbyist running the FCC is about to announce new rules that will kill Net Neutrality — the rule that stops Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon from deciding which sites you’re allowed to visit.
Does Guinness track the maximum number of errors that have ever appeared in writing for certain word counts? If so, the above statements are clearly in the running for the 75 word or less category. Rather than list them out in a fact-checking exercise, I’d like to ask some questions of those passing this drivel around on social media.
Why would Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon want to control what you can and cannot do online? Are all of these companies run by fascists who wish to force a specific world view on us? Are they run by puritans who are going to do away with porn? What could the aim of these for-profit companies possibly be?
What if — and I’m just spitballing here — their motivation was simply profit? What if they don’t care at all what you do online as long as they can make money providing you with internet access? What if they are having trouble adding bandwidth fast enough to keep up with demand, and are desperately looking for solutions aside from doubling the rates they charge their customers?
As you can see, internet usage is doubling approximately every two years, driven largely by an ever-increasing amount of streaming video. What the chart doesn’t show you is that the amount of bandwidth available is not doubling every two years.
Internet providers face a dilemma: how do they acquire the funds to do the R&D and infrastructure improvements required to keep up with our insatiable demand for bandwidth? One solution is for them to dramatically increase rates on all of their customers; an idea that will lead to a revolt among average Americans who just want to stream their favorite show at the end of a hard day and care little about the future calamity of a bottlenecked information superhighway. They face a similar backlash if they throttle back the bandwidth of all of their customers equally. Instead they have settled on a third option where they will charge websites extra for faster service.
The practical effect is that those sites that use the majority of the bandwidth will have to shell out the money required to add more. Naturally, Netflix, Google, and others are none too pleased with this outcome.
According to recent news reports, the Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them. If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet.
This is creative usage of the word ‘discrimination’. In much the same way, car companies apparently discriminate against customers when they charge them more for a car with greater horsepower. I wonder if this represents a grave threat to travel?
The problem for the internet providers is the simplicity of the narrative. Most of us have had bad encounters with these companies and hold them in low regard. Meanwhile, we tend to see only the upside of YouTube and Google, as it’s natural to be less critical of services we seemingly get for free.
One of the more amusing aspects of this entire story is seeing mega corporations such as Google and Facebook described as “technology innovators” to avoid framing this as a dispute between massive companies about who should pay for what.
Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent. The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low.
God forbid these businesses engage in “individualized bargaining”. Surely Google doesn’t offer superior services for an extra cost. And of course Netflix would never introduce any type of tiered pricing system that includes extra benefits to those who would pay more.
These companies would prefer the FCC pass new net neutrality rules that would prevent them from having to pay more in order to receive excellent bandwidth. I would prefer Google provide me with an unlimited amount of file and e-mail storage at no extra cost, yet somehow I suspect they would balk at the idea of users lobbying to have a regulation passed to avoid having to pay them extra for these services.
The spectacle of Google using the government to avoid having to pay more in a market arrangement while accusing the internet providers of doing the same would be funny if it weren’t so effective. One is forced to wonder what it would take for those who fear corporations above all else to realize that when they empower government to insert itself in these matters, they have really only empowered those corporations to engage in regulatory capture.
I suppose they’d have to first know what regulatory capture is. Hardly time to bother with that when they could be streaming Breaking Bad on Netflix.