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1 posts from February 2015

February 26, 2015

Net Neutrality and the Death of Self-Government

Back in 2006, I wrote an article about Net Neutrality that has become more relevant given the recent decision to reclassify the Internet as a public utility, which allows it to be regulated as a Title II entity.

If you're just joining us, that sounds like a bunch of gobblygook, and for good reason. It is.

The people who have been calling for Net Neutrality rules, such as Barack Obama, John Oliver, The Oatmeal, as well as most of my colleagues, welcome this news as a signal that ISPs will no longer be allowed to give preferential treatment to certain types of Internet traffic, regardless of what people may be willing to pay for of their own free will. 

One of my colleagues, an Obama supporter whom I nevertheless am very fond of, expressed absolute incredulity that I cautioned patience over his dissatisfaction with his choices of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and the service they offer. It will get better with time, I said, just as it got better from the old CompuServe and America Online days of needing to dial long-distance numbers through a modem to get a connection that allowed you to hook up to a chat room to tell spam jokes (true story). 

On the other side, fellow Texans Ted Cruz and Mark Cuban (whom I've criticized from time to time) find themselves, more or less, on the same side regarding Net Neutrality. 

The intent of Net Neutrality sounds good on the surface. Who wants fast Internet all the time? And for less, too! I do, I do! 

However, we have to separate the INTENT from not only the CONSEQUENCES, but also the MEANS, for ignoring the means or treating them as inconsequential has indirect consequences that affect all of us.

The means they are using for SWEEPING changes to the role the federal government plays in Internet access bypasses people’s own personal choices (first) and their direct representatives (second) in favor of a bureaucratic decision (on a 3-2 vote) that is absent any meaningful oversight. Regardless of what we think of the intent, the process matters. Accepting the maxim that an unelected bureaucracy can and should make such sweeping (rather than, say, incremental) changes on a vote from the board of directors effectively divorces the American people from self-government. We are no longer in control.

Second, the direct consequences of these new regulatory powers are detrimental to the free exchange of goods and labor between private parties — meaning the ISP and the people who are willing to pay for access, on their terms, and substitutes the terms of an unelected regulatory body that apparently has the power to change its mind on a whim. 

Third, having the ability to throttle certain channels taken away from them, ISPs must either slow down the “fast-track” channels to compensate, or invest in infrastructure to expand the bandwidth so speeds can keep up with the increased demand. The natural consequence for this is slower speeds and higher prices, which the ISPs will dutifully either lobby to be paid for by the taxpayer (higher debt or taxes), or pass on to the consumer in the form of higher fees.

What’s worse, it’s going to take a few years for this to get through the courts (more costs!), so by the time we start seeing higher prices and/or poorer service, we’re going to forget how we got here, and we’ll be powerless to do anything about it, because the FCC doesn’t answer to us.

This was passed amidst the singing accolades from people who should, but do not, know better, and those whose knowledge of the issue is limited to the dismissive rantings of a comic or the biting parody of a cartoonist. We should not mistake that for informed consent of the American people.

- Cam Beck