Net Neutrality: A Bad Idea.

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On WhiteHouse.gov, we read:

More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here’s a big reason we’ve seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.

That’s what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.

And as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers new rules for how to safeguard competition and user choice, we cannot take that principle of net neutrality for granted. Ensuring a free and open Internet is the only way we can preserve the Internet’s power to connect our world. That’s why the President has laid out a plan to do it, and is asking the FCC to implement it.

Interesting. I see. So in order to preserve freedom and openness, we need the government to introduce more rules. In order to engender greater liberty, we need the government to assume greater control. The free market between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and consumers is actually tyranny, while control and regulation from the government is true freedom and openness. The only thing that can protect us from the vicious corporations and greedy ISPs is the long rifle-barrel of the government to stamp out the tyranny that freedom produces. This is why Obama wants to introduce more rules; it will create more freedom, which of course requires more rules (and more ways for the government to send people to jail) in order to exist.

Confused yet? You should be, because this doesn’t make any sense at all. Seems reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, where “Freedom is Slavery” reigns as one of the main slogans of the tyrannical Big Brother governing body.

In a nutshell, Net Neutrality is the idea that ISPs should be forced to treat all pieces of internet data equally regardless of content and who originated the data, or to whom it is going. The interesting thing is that this “solution” addresses a problem that does not currently exist, but is predicted to exist in the future by Net Neutrality proponents. The “problem” is that some ISPs may choose to introduce “internet fast lanes” for high-bandwidth delivery, if the content provider is willing to pay for it, while everyone else toils with lower-bandwidth and relatively slower content delivery speeds. Proponents of Net Neutrality say that this will lead to only major corporations and the rich being able to afford high-speed content delivery, while small businesses and relatively poorer users will be unable to compete because they cannot afford the fast lanes. Furthermore, proponents of the legislation predict that ISPs will even begin blocking websites that do not pony up for outrageous fees, permanently dooming the internet to a corporate-controlled miasma of commercialism, advertising, and no innovative content.

Like I said, this problem does not currently exist. ISPs do not currently discriminate against data based on content. Neither do they blackmail content providers by threatening to block their sites. No major ISPs, like Verizon or Comcast, have ever indicated an intention to do this. Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely that such an outcome would be achieved. Even the ardent pro-Net Neutrality webcomic The Oatmeal acknowledges that such a scenario is not likely. Rather, the usual arguments pushed by Net Neutrality advocates claim that the lack of regulation will make accessing internet content more expensive, less convenient, and possibly slower for average consumers.

At its core, the Net Neutrality argument says that major ISP and media corporations are immune to free market competition, and that we need government regulation to protect us from the tyranny that freedom hath wrought. It says the freedom from regulation currently enjoyed by the internet will be used against us by corporations. This is complete nonsense. We’ve been hearing this for years, ever since the late 1800s when the Interstate Commerce Commission was introduced to ostensibly protect Americans from major railroad corporations who were immune to free market competition. Of course, the real purpose of the ICC was actually to indeed protect the major railroad corporations; but the history books usually neglect to discuss that.

In response to Obama’s Net Neutrality diatribe, billionaire entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban asked an interesting question:

“Since when have incumbent companies been the mainstays for multiple generations?” 

[Cuban] believes that startups blow up older companies despite an unregulated internet that allows internet providers to prioritize certain traffic streams.

Overall, he thinks the current debate is too narrow and short sighted.

“There will be so much competition from all the enhancements to wireless that incumbent ISPs will have to spend their time fighting cord cutting,” he said.

Exactly right. Cuban is correct. Even the most major of the major corporations are not immune to market forces… that is, unless the violent arm of the government steps in to prop them up. If it were true that the free market allows major corporations to ascend to tyrannical invincibility, then we’d all be buying our imported goods from the British East India Company and flying on Pan-Am airlines. The point is, there are no major corporations, ever, that have been able to continuously dominate and control an industry when exposed to the free market. When government favoritism is involved, it’s a different story; but otherwise, the free market is a fickle mistress. The extent that a company can maintain a level of major success and dominance for a long period of time is only to the extent that they can satisfy consumer demands, both in supply and cost. ISPs are no different, even in the absence of Net Neutrality laws. When Cuban charges that “startups blow up older companies” and that “there will be so much competition” from innovative developments in wireless, among other innovations, he is hitting the nail on the head. The only thing that can force innovative startups out of the market in favor of older companies is the government, which the government is often happy to do as part of a major power grab under the guise of protecting consumers.

I meet some fellow libertarians here and there who erroneously support Net Neutrality laws. They mean well, I’m sure; they’ve just been bamboozled by the language. They’re buying it for some reason when they hear Obama talk about a “free and open” internet. How could any libertarian not support something free and open?

To anyone who supports Net Neutrality laws, let me ask you this: Since when has Obama ever been a warrior for freedom and openness? But even more importantly: Do you believe in the power of free people making voluntary deals to create the maximum amount of prosperity for the maximum number of people, or do you believe in the power of government regulation over the free market to create the prosperous society? If you profess to believe in the former, then you need to reexamine your position on Net Neutrality laws.

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