Hail, hail, the FCC has just enacted Net Neutrality. What is that? Techno-geek types have been concerned for some time about service providers’ plans to charge different rates for different levels of Internet service. The reason is that some applications – HDTV for example – require a very high bandwidth. Some people opposed such differential rates, out of fear that the big players, for example digital content providers like Hulu and Netflix, will hog all the bandwidth, leaving smaller providers out in the cold.
I feel this fear is misguided, for several reasons. Internet bandwidth is not a fixed-sized pie. It’s been steadily increasing with demand, and it will continue to do so. As long is there is competition, the little guy won’t get squeezed out. My bigger concern is about the customer’s connection, the so-called “last mile.” Competition is an issue here, because of state and local governments’ encouragement of telephone and cable monopolies. Many of us have only have three choices – phone, cable, and satellite, and I’ve seen tons of online complaints about the billing practices of Dish Network. City-run wifi networks might help somewhat, but any subsidized service could undercut private providers and become a monopoly, a problem I’ll address later.
As far as the FCC regulation, it’s unlikely to address the problem, even if there is one. That’s because of a phenomenon call regulatory capture – the industry ends up controlling the regulatory agencies. Corruption is one cause, but the biggest reason is that no one knows an industry better than the companies themselves. People often bounce between the corporations and the agencies that supposedly control them. Secondly, regulation costs money, and will undoubtedly increase the cause of our service. Thirdly, why do we need 300 pages of regulation? As usual, the government doesn’t want the public to see the rules until they’re implemented.
The other issue with net neutrality is the allegation, mostly by conservatives and libertarians (see Alex Jones’ infowars.com) that the FCC is doing this as part of a plan to regulate content, which will eventually lead to censorship and licensing of websites. I agree that classifying the Net as a “public utility” sets a bad precedent, but I don’t see the threat as imminent. Censorship will likely come from other directions, such as the un-PATRIOT-ic ACT or “hate crimes” legislation, Furthermore, if city governments take over the “last mile” via public wifi networks, they will be tempted to impose their propagandistic agendas on their citizen customers.
A much bigger threat, I think comes from Obamacare. Well, not exactly the Affordable Care Act itself, but the medical fascism that gave rise to it. Obama’s adviser Cass Sunstein has advocated outlawing the promotion of unapproved, non-mainstream health theories, such as the idea that moderate sun exposure is beneficial. If the insurance companies or Big Pharma were to sue, for example, an anti-vaccine website for cutting into their profits, I doubt that the Supreme Court will have the cojones to go against them. After all, the Supremes were dumb enough to buy the notion that a mandated purchase is the same as a tax. But that’s an issue for another time.