Say NO! to Net Neutrality

I would like to keep this blog primarily technical[1], but it looks to me like the majority of IT land is in favor of net neutrality and I think that’s a mistake.

Any attempt to regulate the internet means we are all less free. More rules & restraints, less free. Even if the worst case happened and an ISP (Internet Service Provider) throttles every site outside a chosen few, I still have the freedom to take my business to another ISP or start a new ISP if none of the existing
ones are suitable.

But that situation could only occur if all ISPs colluded to offer inferior service. In a free market only one ISP needs to play fair because customers are not stupid and will migrate. And if customers are stupid, and they prefer poor service, why expand regulation to address a non-problem?

What is the solution to this ISP cartel? We are told it is a single central rule setting organization that all ISPs must adhere too, formed to control the distribution of internet service. That is the very definition of a cartel.

How many years has your ISP served you? It may not have always been the best service, but you stayed with them or switched as you wanted. But now you want to sick the government onto them for net filtering; something you perceive as a crime, and something they have not yet committed.

Let me tell you how this road ends; To make ISPs comply with your vision, you create a regulatory body. The new regulatory jobs costs money which raises costs. It does a poor job and people try to game the system. The added regulatory burden scares away new ISP startups, which is just as well because the regulatory body favors a few big ISPs anyway because they are easier to manage.

This leads to more scare mongering: The lack of competition and chummy regulatory body is evidence of a trust. The gaming is evidence of corruption. The ever-increasing regulatory cost is evidence of price-fixing. That only a few large providers remain is taken as evidence that ISPs are a ‘natural monopoly’. The feds use these threats to finally scare us into nationalizing ISPs outright.

But it doesn’t have to be this way; Your ISP is run by real people, give them the benefit of the doubt; if you don’t trust your ISP that much, why are you in business with them at all? And above all refuse to be drawn into a dumb war with your longterm neighbor and business partner who has done you no wrong: your ISP.


[1]I try to write one technical article per week. Since this isn’t a technical article it won’t be this weeks article.

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6 Comments on “Say NO! to Net Neutrality”

  1. William O. Yates says:

    having been the
    of an isp buiness for almost
    8 years: could not agree with
    you more…


  2. Rod Price says:

    ISP’s screwing around with your Internet traffic is already happening. See Also google “deep packet inspection.”

    Your argument amounts to “cartel bad, market good.” A few points in response:

    (1) Government is a cartel, by definition. You can’t have more than one government in charge. We get to vote on which government is in charge. This is the best kind of cartel, the only good kind.

    (2) Consider the quality of broadband service we get in the US, where gov’t intervention is the least intrusive in the world. It doesn’t hold a candle to service in Japan, South Korea, most of Europe, etc. Prices are higher here, too.

    (3) William Yates above doesn’t like regulation. No business does. It’s a reflexive reaction. Nonetheless, business’ interests are not my interests. Government intervention is often the only way to stop business from acting against my interests. Despite what the US Supreme Court thinks, I am a person and a business is not. My interests come first.

    (4) Perhaps Mr Yates could tell us where his ISP business gets its Internet connection. Probably from a big telco. What options does he have if his upstream ISP starts screwing around with his customer’s traffic? (Note to Mr Yates: the big upstream ISPs already are screwing around with your customer’s traffic.) Internet service in the US is an oligopoly. A thought experiment: how much investment would be required to build a parallel internet that could offer comparable service to today’s telcos et al. Use scientific notation — that many zeros are hard to read.

    The technical posts in your blog are great; well-researched, well thought out, interesting topics. Perhaps a bit more research and thought before posting your political opinions would be worthwhile, too.


  3. formlis says:

    I’ve read the article you linked and read the article on Deep Packet Inspection on wikipedia ( I don’t think we have opposing view points, just different ideas on how to best achieve an open (and useful) internet.

    My understand of Comcasts actions were as follows:

    1. A comcast subscriber connected to a bit torrent network.
    2. Comcast identified the packets as bit torrent packets.
    3. Comcast sent TCP reset packets and (as specified by the TCP protocol) the comcast subscribers machine closed the connection. In essence, Comcast prevents the use of certain protocols on its network.

    While its unfortunate that comcast is unwilling to provide the service that consumers want, I don’t see why we should compel them, via law to change (as opposed to via pocketbooks by changing ISP).

    Law and morality are two different things — law is simply ‘things that we consider violence an acceptable response too’. To breaks a law means society will strip you of some possessions (via fines) or freedoms (via jails) and they won’t ask nicely.

    Were comcasts actions so henious that fines (enforced by … well force if necessary) are the most appropriate solution?

    You have some very reasonable points:

    1. I agree that government is a cartel. I also agree that you cannot have more than one in a region; Government holds a monopoly on the use of first-strike force in a region.

      However, this isn’t a choice between democratic government and ISP freedom. We can have both a democratic goverment and ISPs that are free from government regulation.

    2. This is debatable, as the US government gave AT&T a very big monopoly for a very long time. The US is a very free place, but it is no stranger to market interference.

      But there are other factors at work. The US is very large, compared to some of the places you mentioned, and that has a large effect on the cost of running telecom cables. In the arctic circle you’d have a lot of freedom, but internet there is probably very expensive.

      Some of the places you mentioned are rated as more free by some sources:
      Hong Kong, Signapore, Austrialia… US is 8th.
      Hong Kong, Signapore, New Zealand… US is 5th.
    3. Are you certain business interests aren’t your interests? Do you think the Comcast subscriber in the earlier article stayed with Comcast?

      A non-monopoly cannot force you to buy or use it’s product; they have to please you. If you let the goverment get into bed with the ISPs, they’ll have to please the government. China demonstates the problems with this approach.

      I do agree that businesses are not people. Businesses are an association of persons; they have no more rights or priviledges than what their constituents have.

    4. I’d wager you are correct in that Mr. Yates and all other local ISPs are hooked up to a very small number of A tier providers. But I don’t think that even that small number of providers would collude to provide worse service.

      Even if they did, without the use of force, they couldn’t force their cartel partners to toe the line. And if they could, they couldn’t suppress independent efforts to build new backbones. And if they could, they couldn’t suppress individual efforts to build small, open city-wide intranets. And if they could, they couldn’t stop consumers from switching to satillite connections. And if they could, they couldn’t stop people from inventing new information carrying technologies. And if they could, they couldn’t solve ever single encryption or information hiding algorithm the human mind can conceive.

      The only way they could really attain and maintain the monopoly we all fear is through force, which only government can provide. Thats why I’d like to keep my ISP and my government completely seperate, thank you.

    I’m glad you like my technical articles, and I appologize for the lack of them recently. I’ve run out of things to talk about, and I’m going to be launching a new version of FormLis really soon (just working on manuals and stuff!)… so I’ve been busy.

  4. Random Chance says:

    Probably government rules that protect employees’ rights and unions are also bad because the businessmen don’t get to do anything they please in order to keep costs down (as if!). Government is not a bad thing and the market is not a panacea. You can always argue that it’s better that everybody (that includes organisations) can do as they please and people who don’t like it can just walk away. This assumes that everybody can choose freely at all times and under all circumstances. They way I see it (being just as unreasonable as you are): If the ISP don’t like the regulations then he can close down shop and do something else like being unemployed for instance. If he does not want to do anything that would be prohibited by new regulations there’s nothing he has to worry about, isn’t there?

  5. formlis says:

    Relevant to this topic, Mary Ruwart (Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee 2008 and author of Healing Our World) was asked a similar question about roads — how do we protect ourselves from nefarious road monopolies in a free market.

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