I have been meaning to comment on “net neutrality” for a while. I was originally an opponent but I have been persuaded by arguments on both sides that net neutrality is something that should be enforced. This has been not only by pro- arguments, but by some of the truly vapid anti- arguments. I still think that this is a debatable issue, with many nuances, but one has to make a decision and I think net neutrality is clearly the least bad alternative (the good alternative would be to eliminate the last mile monopoly, but that’s not going to happen any time soon).
As case of the latter: an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal by Holman Jenkins, who is usually more sensible. When he uses the phrase “IP fetishism”, you know you’re no longer dealing with logic. Here’s an example:
Your cable operator may sell you one, two, or three megabits [per second? can’t even get that right] of capacity for a broadband connection, but most of his pipe is reserved for his TV offerings.
Yes, but that’s irrelevant, since that capacity was never sold to consumers as IP bandwidth. Moreover, one can (and I do) purchase just bandwidth from a cable company without paying for the TV allocated part of the pipe. The cable is, in fact, net neutral for all IP traffic. I will touch on just one more silliness, because it’s blatant:
it’s obvious that […] they [AT&T, Verizon] will be under competive pressure to keep giving consumers bigger and bigger pipes […]
“net neutrality” would result in an increasingly unreliable Internet as more and more high-bandwidth applications contest for space on networks that nobody would have an incentive to expand.
Both of these things cannot be true. Unless one thinks that competitive pressure is no incentive in American business.
But there are other reasons, some of which I realized while reading this post from Right Wing News. Hawkins is normally a sensible kind of guy, but he really bifs it here. For instance he writes “Who are the biggest supporters of net neutrality? Other big corporations like Verizon and AT&T” which is completely backwards — those are the companies opposed to net neutrality. But what’s really wrong is his basic analogy:
Imagine you have a city and a big corporation, we’ll call them Corporation X, builds a plant 30 miles outside of town. Well, Corporation X needs a way for their employees, customers, and suppliers to get to their plant, so, at great expense, they build a highway that runs from the city to their plant.
We’re already off the rails. X didn’t build the plant, other people (like Amazon and Google) did. X built the road in order to charge people to get to the plant. That’s their business model. Now, X wants to charge the plant owner more money to let his customers (who have already paid X to use the road) get to his plant. X wants to sell again something he’s already sold. The essence is that Google doesn’t send traffic through the ISP to me, I use the bandwidth capacity I have purchased to have network traffic with Google. Part of the agreement for that bandwidth is that I get to use it have network traffic with whatever other networked computer I want.
The idea that other companies can “use the network to take their [ISPs’] business” is completely wrong. Those other companies are in a different business and, moreover, without those other companies there would be very little business for the ISPs.
Even in libertarian terms, the ISPs don’t have much of a case. Net neutrality has been the standard from the start and to complain as if they had just noticed that is laughable. Give up the last mile monopolies and then I am ok with dropping net neutrality. Until then, if the government is going to restrict the pipes in to my house, the least bad regulation is to make the pipe content neutral.