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?