Thursday, October 16, 2008

Net neutrality and Wired's wishy-washy libertarianism

By most measures, the Internet is one of the most libertarian spheres of the economy. This is qualified by saying that this only applies to the non-wireless forms*, but nevertheless, internet access and content delivery are relatively competitive and free markets. Net neutrality advocates, however, are looking to change this, by forcing ISPs (this mostly applies to last-mile providers) to not discriminate with regards to bits – that is, allow all content through, and do not charge different prices for different content.

Though exaggerated, the fears of ISPs using non-neutral practices to throttle traffic are not unfounded – some ISPs have been filtering BitTorrent traffic in some way or another). But BitTorrent users and providers don't exactly have much clout, and so it cannot be that they are the only force behind the movement which has won the support of the soon-to-be president Obama. Valleywag believes that that huge ad company that also happens to have a search engine (Google) is in favor of the legislation because they believe that ISP's will eventually try to bite into its ad revenues by demanding more to move Google's bits around the Internet:

It's all about net neutrality. What's "net neutrality"? As far as we can tell, it's a bunch of rhetoric that amounts to regulations that affirm Google's God-given right to avoid giving Internet service providers a cut of advertising revenues. An Obama presidency would mean Google can save money on lobbying fees. Well, times are tough, and every penny counts. It's good to know that even the saintly Vint Cerf votes on pocketbook issues. He's the father of the Internet, and he approved this message.

What's interesting about net neutrality, though, is that it's incredibly popular among the internet literati, despite its anti-libertarian core. Wired magazine, which the cloud at Wikipedia says adheres to "strong libertarian principles," is unabashedly in favor of net neutrality legislation. In their Obama vs. McCain scorecard they award McCain a D for opposing net neutrality, and give Obama an A for supporting it. Interestingly enough, on their scorecard of five issues, they reward the libertarian position with good grades only twice (in the spectrum and H1B visas sections), while awarding good grades for statist positions on three other issues (broadband [read: broadband regulation/subsidization], investment in green tech, and net neutrality). They left out a bit one – intellectual property (where Wired favors of the libertarian approach) – though they slightly redeemed themselves by mentioning it a few days later.

When you think about it, it's kind of pathetic that Wired is supposedly the standard-bearer for techno-libertarians, when its editorial opinions on the hottest issues in technology of the day are split 50-50 between libertarian and statist. As an alternative for political ideas (Wired, despite its politics, is still an excellent source of tech/science news and analysis), may I suggest the inspiration for this post – the Technology Liberation Front blog, which bills itself as a "tech policy blog dedicated to keeping politicians' hands off the 'net and everything else related to technology."

*The electromagnetic spectrum, over which all wireless communication travels, can handle a lot, but for about a century the federal government has strictly controlled its use, creating spectacular inefficiencies and blocking out huge majorities of the spectrum to open uses à la wi-fi.

2 comments:

dequeued said...

Why should an ISP be entitled to a cut of Google's revenue?

If I am conducing banking through my internet connection, should my ISP be entitled to shave a little money off my savings account too?

I am choosing to go visit google.com (not comcast's crappy internet portal), I paid for my internet connection, and google paid for their internet connection, so what's the problem?

Like most Americans, I only have one ISP available to me.
And I know comcast is just waiting to get the go-ahead to start "enhancing" my internet connection.

How long until they outright block use of Skype?
How long until owners of websites have to pay fees just to be viewable by comcast users?
Maybe they will start charging text-messaging rates for every character sent via smtp.
Or perhaps they will inject additional ads directly into my open http connections.

Why upgrade infrastructure when they can just degrade people's connections?
It's not as if they have any competition.

If you want an idea of how bad an unregulated internet will suck, just look at other less regulated private communication networks, like cell phones, or cable television.

If you factor in phone company double dipping (charging the sender and receiver), it now costs $0.40 to send a text message, only two cents more and you could just mail someone a letter.

Yay market!

Domain Names 4 Sale 24-7 said...

I wonder if 'net neutrality' will become the new 'buzz word' for change? And, if so, will we regress or grow forwards? Something to ponder, huh.

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