Tuesday, May 30, 2017

S-L—'Net neutrality too valuable to lose now.': No, Internet Freedom too Valuable to Lose, Ever

The Trump FCC is taking a lot of heat for its move to repeal so-called “net neutrality” regulations on internet service providers. Typical of the heat comes from the New Jersey Star-Ledger, which editorialized Net neutrality too valuable to lose now.

[T]he web has a bedrock principle: The mighty broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon shouldn’t be allowed to selectively slow down or block websites, and all internet data must be treated equally.

“Treated equally” means content providers like Netflix, which use extraordinary amounts of broadband capacity, can’t be charged more for their usage. Net neutrality means simply that federal bureaucrats get to override private contracts between providers of service and content.
This, supposedly, is good for consumers.

I left these comments:

So let’s get this straight: ISPs catering to government bureaucrats, rather than consumers, is good for consumers? That’s the absurdity behind “net neutrality.”

It’s not the big, bad “mighty broadband providers” we should fear. They’re the producers who invested the $billions to build the physical capacity that makes the internet possible. It’s the government—the political hacks—with its legal power to compel obedience, that we should fear. A government with the power to dictate “net neutrality” regulations on these private companies has the power to regulate anything on the internet. Just the implied threat of regulation is a form of physical coercion that can be levied against the ISPs—and indirectly on content providers. Regulatory power as such is the power to compel obedience at gunpoint. Don’t forget the IRS free speech-stifling scandal. It’s bad enough that the land of the First Amendment even has a Federal Communications Commission. Don’t compound that injustice with net neutrality rules.

I, as one consumer, will not be suckered by the statists’ hollow slogans into handing over control to government bureaucrats. The big content providers like Netflix and their customers don’t deserve government-coerced handouts [full disclosure: I am a Netflix subscriber]. They can pay their fair share for the consumer-driven products they provide. Internet fees are properly the right of ISPs and content providers to contractually negotiate among themselves without government interfering on behalf of one party or another.

Market supply and demand, not crony-oriented dictates of government bureaucrats, should be the concern of the ISPs. While the computer code of the internet is open source—free for anyone to use—the physical equipment of the internet is not some public domain. It is privately built networks, and the networks belong to whoever builds them based on the principle of property rights. The ISPs built their networks. They are, despite certain government-imposed roadblocks, largely subject to competition—new ISPs are free to enter the market at any time. An ISP has a right to set the terms according to its profitability, its capital expenditure needs, and the good of its overall customer base, whether it is pricing or who to sell their capacity, so long as it doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. Charging extra for heavy users of the network it built, owns, and operates is perfectly legitimate. If an ISP overcharge, the market will force it to alter its policies.

The internet, like the printing press before it, is particularly critical to a free society because it is a direct intersection of economics and free speech. Economic freedom and intellectual freedom are corollaries. The Left has been itching to get control of the intellectual marketplace of ideas, just as it has gained immense control over the marketplace of goods. They are enemies of free speech (think campaign finance controls). Net neutrality is not only about economic control—the government running roughshod over private citizens’ private property, bad as that is: it is an opening wedge of intellectual control. The only neutrality there should be is in regard to government and its laws: Unless there is evidence of fraud or other criminal behavior, keep government out of the private internet and apply equal protection of the law without favoritism. A government-controlled, politically corrupted internet is not a “free and open internet.” Only a market-oriented internet is truly free and open.

Net neutrality was first introduced under the GW Bush FCC. Obama made it worse. It is a bipartisan atrocity. Government-enforced “net neutrality,” if not the FCC itself, should be abolished.

Related Reading:

Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet—Raymond C. Niles for The Objective Standard

Related Viewing:

NET NEUTRALITY NEUTERS THE INTERNET—Interview with Steve Simpson, the Ayn Rand Institute’s director of legal studies.

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