Well the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just shot down net neutrality. Internet Service Providers may now freely choke or block any sites they want. Perhaps a big dog blog wants to silence its competition, and it cuts a check to Verizon so that any competing site is blocked or slow to load on Verizon’s network. That’s now legal. Or what if ISPs want to charge a premium price to content-providers for quicker loading? That’s legal too. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has shot down net neutrality and upheld that internet service is an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” Information services are unregulated. So that’s that.
Since the last time I wrote about net neutrality, I have begun to have more mixed feelings about it. For one, net neutrality (also known as Internet openness) relies on the civil government to force private companies (ISPs in this case) to keep their services “neutral.” Though I think internet service should be neutral—because I don’t like the idea that dissenting or competing sites/blogs could be effectively silenced by a legal bribe—I also don’t like the idea that ISPs should be dictated to by the civil government.
I want ISPs to be absolutely transparent filterless conduits of whatever their customers want to access on the internet. But I want them to come to this conclusion because of voluntary market pressure. And there’s the rub. Because, in some places, there isn’t yet a robust competition possible. Some regions of the country only have one ISP available. Perhaps the net neutrality ruling will spawn more ISPs. But these new ISPs would have to develop a network, and that will require millions in capital investment. And there isn’t any guarantee that such an investment will pay off. Most people just don’t pay attention to things that aren’t there. If Google gets a fast lane and DuckDuckGo gets choked or blocked, most people won’t even notice. They’ll just use Google even more than they already do. And the current big boys of the internet will just get even more entrenched. With less accountability and less reason to innovate.
You can think of it in terms of roads. If all roads were privately held and operated, there would probably be tolls. Libertarians may say that those tolls would have to be reasonable or people would just boycott the roads. But that isn’t necessarily the case. What if the road is the only possible way available to get from point A to point B? You would have no choice unless someone built a road right next to the already-existent one. This could go on indefinitely until a company finally decided to stop wasting real estate and be reasonable. And the market could not necessarily or always force them to do this. Consider toll bridges over large expanses of water. No one is making roads next to them anytime soon. People just pay the tolls, no matter how expensive. What else are they going to do? Snorkel to work?
Similarly, the destruction of net neutrality could create a huge amount of unnecessary and inefficient expense. And the customer, as usual, will be the one that pays. What’s the solution to this? I don’t know. Do you think the civil government should intervene? Is the internet a public infrastructure (like the roadway system) that, according to some conservatives, needs government supervision? Or are we ultimately better off without net neutrality?