Saturday, April 28, 2012
Net neutrality for dummies
by John Hayward
The concept of “Net Neutrality” lies at the heart of the Federal Communication Commission’s ongoing efforts to regulate Internet access. To its opponents, Net Neutrality is an Orwellian euphemism for regulatory overreach, couched in appealing language about “the freedom of the Internet.”
At issue is the limited bandwidth available for accessing web sites. More bandwidth means faster access, but Internet speed is a commodity—there’s only so much of it available to go around. The amount of available bandwidth has increased exponentially over the past 20 years, to the point where today’s cell phones are loading Web pages faster than yesterday’s computers. But yesterday’s computers were mostly shuffling simple pages of text with a few small images, not gigabytes of online gaming, music and video. Demand kept pace with supply as the power of the Internet grew. Big Government is, once again, promising to overrule the laws of supply and demand.
Net Neutrality covers a range of regulatory proposals designed to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all web traffic as equal, instead of selling precious bandwidth at varying price and performance levels. The key word is “force.” Massive new regulatory powers would be needed to impose Net Neutrality on companies that currently labor under the delusion that they own the infrastructure they have created, and can therefore rent it out as they see fit.
The Federal Communications Commission has spent the last several years looking for a blunt instrument it can use to enforce Net Neutrality. At one point, they were toying with the idea of classifying the entire Internet as a telephone monopoly, and activating 130-year-old rules to regulate it. A massive, bipartisan backlash in Congress scuttled that tactic.
Net Neutrality is a solution in search of a problem. The reader has probably not encountered much difficulty accessing even the smallest web sites. Big sites that deliver huge amounts of multimedia content with blistering speed pay extra for their performance, but this happily leaves ISPs with plenty of lower-cost extra bandwidth to sell. Net Neutrality would be movement, at gunpoint, away from efficient Internet capitalism, and into dreary online socialism. Imagine what would happen to Internet traffic if ISPs were required to treat obscure cat blogs the same way they handle Fox News, CNN and Netflix.
Poor user experience
Net Neutrality would foul things up on the user end of the Internet experience, too. Most basic Internet services have some sort of usage cap, beyond which performance is automatically slowed down. The caps are very high, so average users are perfectly happy with this arrangement. Even cell phone users, with more aggressive usage caps than household cable or DSL access, rarely encounter their service limits. Those who desire more bandwidth—most commonly for downloading large amounts of multimedia content, like high-definition movies—can pay extra to raise or remove their usage limits.
This kind of multi-tiered service is the reason cheaper, “lower-tiered” service exists at all. It would be silly to charge the same rate to an average home user who fiddles with email and Facebook for a couple of hours each day, versus a movie fanatic who wants to download a hundred high-def movies a month.
At worst, Net Neutrality would “redistribute” bandwidth, so that network hogs have no reason not to download everything in creation, at all hours. Meanwhile, those average users would be reduced to hammering their keyboards in frustration, and wondering why even simple everyday websites took several minutes to load. The past would become a bygone age of wonders.
Net Neutrality waivers
As always, vast power would accrue to those who control the “redistribution” of Internet bandwidth. It wouldn’t be long before the first Net Neutrality waivers appeared, the same way ObamaCare is riddled with special exemptions for the politically connected. Like so much else in our centrally planned economy, Internet access would become a boon granted by politicians, rather than a commodity sold by businesses.
The proponents of Net Neutrality sell their agenda by inverting the language of freedom, warning darkly of evil ISPs “blocking” content from website proprietors if they don’t pay a ransom. This is true in precisely the same sense that motorists who drive a Chevy Volt are “blocked” from driving as fast as a Porsche can. Net Neutrality “solves” this “problem” by outlawing Porsches… and spending taxpayer money on an army of regulators to ensure that every car dealership sells nothing but Volts.
Net Neutrality shares many attributes of the Left’s other favored causes. It’s steeped in anti-capitalist rhetoric, and driven by the conviction that government bureaucrats can impose a vision of “fairness” that free people can never find on their own. Like global-warming alarmism, it proposes massive regulatory preemptive strikes against hypothetical problems.
Those who resist the push toward socialized medicine warn that it’s like getting health care from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Net Neutrality is ObamaCare for the Internet.
To read another article by John Hayward, click here.
Posted by Brett at 12:43 AM