Net Neutrality Has Been Axed

Yeah.

The U.S. House of Representatives definitively rejected the concept of Net neutrality on Thursday, dealing a bitter blow to Internet companies like Amazon.com, eBay and Google that had engaged in a last-minute lobbying campaign to support it.

By a 269-152 vote that fell largely along party lines, the House Republican leadership mustered enough votes to reject a Democrat-backed amendment that would have enshrined stiff Net neutrality regulations into federal law and prevented broadband providers from treating some Internet sites differently from others.

I’m sure that there’s a lot of libertarians of every stripe that are probably happy that Net neutrality provisions were defeated by the House Republicans. I’ve heard libertarians argue on both sides of the fence. I, though, can’t get over the fact that it’s still tyranny. Privatized tyranny isn’t any better than public sector tyranny simply because it’s private.

Market arguments break down in discussions over the internet. First off, we have a system that was developed by the government. Telecoms are basically the recipients of massive government subsidies. Now, questions over who should have developed the internet are moot, although like most here, I naturally would have supported private action in the very beginning.

HOWEVER. Private action didn’t happen, no matter how much we may have wished it to. We have a system that was built with public money. When something has been built with public money, it ought to be used for the public good, yes? Surely libertarians can concede that whoever builds something owns it? Historically, we have seen that when public money is used to build a private network, bad things happen. Those private companies, after receiving huge subsidies, screw over the people that were forced to pay for their existence. Certainly the more libertarian thing to do with an unlibertarian situation is to keep it maintained, or at least regulated, by government so that some public good comes out of public money.

The classic example was the Union Pacific. Massive government subsidies led to the creation of the transcontinental railroad, and the Union Pacific’s very existence. What did it do after that? Railroads, which were viewed as a public good (hence why the public paid for them), became very unfriendly to the public. Farmers couldn’t afford to ship their crops to market, the railroads became a major power broker in every state where they were present in force (including my native Nebraska), subverting the will of the people. All because a public good was handed over to private interests.

Another example would be to think about what would happen if we suddenly privatized the entire federal highway system, all of it, without funding a replacement public transportation network. Do you think the highway company would try to make sure that you could get to work cheaply? Do you think that “competitors” could potentially arise, given the difficult nature of establishing transportation systems of any kind? Do you think that the highway company wouldn’t have immediate and powerful clout in Washington to force its political will on us?

This is not to say that public property is good and should be preserved, but certainly there ought to be some reasonable middle ground between converting something bought and paid for by taxpayers into a purely profit-driven endeavor. In the case of the railroads, it was setting prices for transit-yes, a regulation of the free market, but a reasonable one considering that the public had paid for those railroads and had therefore paid for the right to reasonable use of them. In the case of the telecoms and the internet, the “reasonable regulation” is net neutrality-making sure my digital grain can be shipped to digital market just as easily as everything else can be. It doesn’t kill the market to enforce this, it’s a minor restriction but given the inherent monopolistic nature of the endeavor and the public financing that kickstarted it, I would say it is a reasonable one.

Besides, if the telecoms and the government are in bed with each other, as any corporation is when the government is sufficiently big, what difference does it make who is actually doing the censoring of independent thought?

17 Comments
  1. How long have you been on the Internet? There are several factual problems here.

    First, government didn’t just hand over the Internet backbone, as it were. In fact, the government initially didn’t want commercialization of the Internet at all. So the private companies built their own parallel networks and eventually was allowed to interconnect them to the NSFNET.

    In 1994 the NSFNET, which at that point was simply one of many backbones, was transitioned to four private companies, and in 1995 it went away altogether.

    Of what was government funded, precious little was actually privatized; companies for the most part had to build their own networks.

    As for net neutrality, it’s a bad idea to legislate a solution to a problem that doesn’t yet exist and might never exist. And even if someday some company decides to prevent your digital grain from getting to market, you have other choices. This isn’t a railroad.

  2. I also should note that I WAS on the Internet during this period of transition. There were significant restrictions on how it could be used. On my first connection in 1992, provided by the U.S. Navy, we were not allowed to conduct any sort of commercial transaction — even with other private individuals. You even had to have a really good excuse for so much as connecting to a company’s FTP site, if the company was even on the Internet at all. E-mail was generally OK, though MIME (attachments) had yet to be invented, so sending files around was cumbersome at best. Then again, virtually everyone had their own FTP server, and gopher was starting to catch on…

    Oh, those were the days.

    But please let’s not go back to them.

  3. You’re also missing the fact that telecom companies are generally quite good at losing business.

    Think about it.

    A large majority of the fiber optics laid in the USA are “dark fiber” which was never activated. Most of the companies who laid the fiber have gone bust or are hurting.

    Google alone has a market cap much larger than the big telcos who are trying to fight with it. It could easily transform some of that cap into cash to buy dark fiber at a huge discount, light it up, and offer its own access for free or near-free. . . destroying the telecoms’ tiered business AND their traditional business alike.

    Remember when the Internet first took off and dial-up was the most common way to access it? Telecoms companies who provided “unlimited” phone wires suddenly started complaining when users used their unlimited access for dial-up web connections. The telcos went to Washington and state regulators and complained that when they said “unlimited,” they didn’t really mean unlimited.

  4. (continued from last post)

    Some of them started charging for modem useage and people fretted that it would be the end of the internet.

    Instead, what happened? Cable companies were happy to come in and offer unlimited high-speed access AND phone access. Many people switched to high speed networks, and the telcos LOST big money. After all, getting a second phone line in the home for the dial-up connection was a big trend. . . when telcos started charging big fees for modem useage on “unlimited” lines, the second lines were cancelled and replaced with broadband, and they lost the second line revenue. Growth slowed AND customers defected.

    Now, we have Verizon and Sprint blanketing the country with high-speed EVDO CDMA and T-Mobile/Cingular installing GSM EDGE. We have millions of miles of dark fiber unused in the major cities. We have very successful tech companies with cash out the wazoo. And we have telcos who are whining again like in the 90s, who will lose big again.

  5. I agree with you, Stuart.

    Hey, I’ve got a great libertarian way for the government to balance the budget without raising taxes!

    The government could sell the federal court system, to the private market. [privatize it]

    Then, whoever owned the court system could use a different Constitution, depending on who the defendant was.

  6. How about Internet 2.0 (or 3.0)? Or several intranets? I watched BetaMax, CP/M, Commodore, Atari, and dot matrix come and go. There is very little loyalty. Advertisers (who pay the bulk of it) will follow users anywhere.

    It would be an interesting experiment to have authoritarian-run intranets vs. libertarian-run such as the current Internet. There’s probably a market for identity-verified intranet, but it’ll cost more.

  7. First off, don’t listen to everything you hear on the news. Google and their buddies want a free internet? Foolishness, they know the game. If congress passes a law which allows cable companies to charge websites on bandwidth, guess who will be able to afford the new costs? That’s right Google, and who won’t? The next Google like startup, the costs will be too high. Yes, a monopoly will happen immediately over the internet premium services. Google doesn’t want it? Hog wash, they welcome it.

  8. In the case of the telecoms and the internet, the “reasonable regulation” is net neutrality-making sure my digital grain can be shipped to digital market just as easily as everything else can be. It doesn’t kill the market to enforce this…

    I agree completely. Network neutrality guarantees a level playing field and is very pro-individualist in the sense that even the smallest peon such as myself can deliver their content to people just as fast and reliable as the largest corporation.

    Once again, Republicans have taken the side of the corporation and those with money and connections, and have said to hell with the little guy.

  9. This is definitely the American Way of doing things. It has always been the policy and mode of operation for the government of the United States to give and then take away. Say it’s for one purpose knowing all along that 10 years from now they will show us their true intentions. This is not about money, this is about power. Remember in GodFather 2, Michael Corleone was speaking to Hyman Roth about the rebel in town who blew himself up. This is yet another example of the fall of America. You’re “free” but not really. How do we really exercise our disgust with the way our government whores for the BIG Corporations? We protest, but we can forget using words, we have to take action. We must create a new technology a new system. This is not about politicing, the Dems are no better than the Rep, just a different expression of the same hypocrisy. “Of the People, By the People , For the People” just words.
    Rolf, you’re not far from the truth, by 2010 they’ll be considering private courts. PTTP

  10. Did someone say “network neutrality” and talk about Google and others needing regulation to stay ahead of the game? Hmmm. . .

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,9075-2023600,00.html

    By purchasing the dark fibre, Google would in effect be able to acquire a ready made internet network that they could control.

    Late last year, Google purchased a 270,000sq ft telecom interconnection facilities in New York. It is believed that from here, Google plans to link up and power the dark fibre system and turn it into a working internet network of its own.

    So Verizon charges customers an arm and a leg extra to access Google at decent speeds, Google simply turns around and offers them free internet with lightning-fast connections to Google. Verizon goes under, and the free market wins again. No government needed or necessary.

  11. “Privatized tyranny isn’t any better than public sector tyranny simply because it’s private.”

    Amen, Stephen!

    The new form of tyranny brewing is coming primarily from the corporate giants rather from government. I don’t want Big Business controlling the ‘Net anymore than Big Government. Also, it is still a fact that even withOUT Net Neutralitity, the FCC will now have new regulatory powers over the Internet.

    Having said that, my hope is that the ISP market will remain uninhibited so that we can choose an ISP that caters to our needs. I fear that attacking the small ISPs will be the next step the telecom companies will take to prevent our access to vital information in the Info War.

  12. the inventor of the Web (basic principles):

    “Net neutrality is this:

    If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.

    That’s all. Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens.”

    Robert X Cringely (more technical):

    “Where this Net Neutrality issue will hit home is for Voice over IP telephone service, which becomes pitiful if there is too much latency. That’s what this is all about, folks: VoIP and nothing else. The telcos want to use it to keep out the Vonages, Skypes, and Packet8s, and the cable companies do, too. It is a $1 trillion global business, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the ISPs will do anything to own it, but it isn’t about movies or music or even AJAX apps — at least, not yet.”

  13. The latest from Robert X. Cringely (even more technical):

    Net Neutered:
    Why don’t they tell us ending Net Neutrality might kill BitTorrent?


    “this week is all about Net Neutrality, which turns out to be a far more complex issue than we (or Congress) are being told.

    Net Neutrality is a concept being explored right now in the U.S. Congress, which is trying to decide whether to allow Internet Service Providers to offer tiers of service for extra money or to essentially be prohibited from doing so. The ISPs want the additional income and claim they are being under compensated for their network investments, while pretty much everyone else thinks all packets ought to be treated equally.”

    (cont.)

  14. (cont.)

    “allowing the telco’s to subsidize the cost of improving their infrastructure by having preferred packets could exponentially increase the cost accrued by the larger internet and backbone providers just to keep costs down at the aggregate level.’

    To recap: Giving priority to some traffic puts a hurt on other types of traffic and when that other traffic constitutes more than 30 percent of the Internet, the results can be severe for all of us. On the Internet everything is connected, and you can’t easily ignore the impact of one service on another.”

    “The only way, in fact, to limit BitTorrent traffic would be to have it made illegal and now we’re back again to the clueless Congress that started this whole mess.”

  15. Oh what a bunch of bullshit.

    BitTorrent was designed to run at high speed when it’s the lowest priority thing on the network.

    And it would take a lot more than an act of Congress to kill it.

  16. Net Neutrality = Net Regulation.

    This “net neutrality” bullshit is similar to calling the “patriot act” the Patriot Act. It has nothing to do with Patriotism.

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