Net Neutrality: Something out of a George Orwell Novel

by Sal on December 23, 2010

in Economy,Law,Media,Politics,Stupid government

The FCC this week passed a new regulatory scheme governing the Internet.  The scheme, as known by its advocates, is known as Net Neutrality.  The basic selling point of “net neutrality” is that broadband Internet providers should not govern or prioritize what type of traffic goes across its network.  What this means is that Cox, Comcast, Verizon, or whoever your Internet Service Provider is cannot determine that Facebook gets more speed than, for example, this website.  On its face, the idea seems common sense.  Why should my cable company determine what type of internet traffic should be more important than other traffic?  On its face, this seems like a victory for Internet freedom.  However, like most liberal policies, it is a policy that could stifle innovation, harm consumers, and lead to a bloated federal bureaucracy.

Why is Net Neutrality so bad?  As AOR’s resident Techie, allow me to explain.  There are many valid reasons that a broadband provider could prioritize Internet traffic.  For example, it may have reason to slow down certain types of sites, known as torrents.  Torrents are large downloads of movies, music, games, and software, usually illegal, that consume a lot of bandwidth.  People who tend to download these torrents can consume over 100x the Internet traffic as the average consumer.  Because of the way cable broadband works, if your neighbor is downloading torrents, it could seriously impact your ability to check your email or watch a Netflix video.

Additionally, there are some services which have a technical need to be prioritized.  Skype, or other voice over IP  technologies for phone calls, can benefit from a higher priority as it can lead to less choppy calls and better quality.  By treating it the same as all other traffic, as the Internet grows, it may cause services like Skype to become less useful.

Proponents of Net Neutrality have always argued that the broadband providers have the capability of abusing their ability to prioritize traffic, such as allowing higher priority to Myspace over Facebook because Myspace paid the cable company some large sum of money.  While no evidence exists that this has ever happened, it does illustrate a problem with the system, but not one that proponents of Net Neutrality see.  The real problem is lack of consumer choice.  Because of the way broadband companies are currently regulated, they act in a virtual monopoly in whatever area they service.  This is due to the high cost of entry and burdensome government regulations that prevent small providers to enter the game.  In my own town, we only have one broadband provider, my cable company.  Verizon tried to bring FiOS in a couple of years ago, but because of the way the People’s Republic of Massachusetts operates, my town’s Board of Selectmen tried to shake down Verizon for money until Verizon just threw in the towel.  So introducing competition and de-regulation is the solution to this problem, not more regulation (and, abolishing the FCC may not be a bad way to start).

The FCC’s new regulatory scheme is the first government incursion on the Internet.  The FCC acted, even though numerous courts have ruled that the FCC has no authority over the Internet, and it is just the first step.  If the FCC has authority over the Internet, how soon before content itself begins to be regulated by the FCC?  How soon before the government decides sites like this one, or Michelle Malkin, or Ace of Spades, or even the Daily Kos, need to be censored?

Government intervention, no matter how well-meaning, usually ends this way, with government overreach.  In this case, Net Neutrality will lead to the exact opposite result than what its proponents claim they were fighting for.  It is a term that describes the wholesale takeover of the free Internet by our government, and the term “Net Neutrality” is an example of Double Speak that would have been right at home in George Orwell’s 1984.

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