Today the Federal Communications Commission voted on a notice of proposed rule making that repeals net neutrality rules put in place by the Commission in 2015. The rules classified broadband access services as a telecommunications service, taking it out of the previous information services box.
Telecommunications services have been historically looked at as a multi-point service that allows a consumer to send a voice or text message from a point of origin to a termination point with no changes in the content and format of the message. Except for some technology that ensures the signal remains strong from one end of the call to the other, the service was pretty much bare bones; plain old telephone service or POTS as we old heads referred to it back in the day.
Information services provided a few more enhancements to communications. It integrated computer applications and protocols with telecommunications services. Instead of voice being the “message” or “content”, the integration of software with plain old telephone lines gave people who exchanged information via analog methods the enhanced ability to exchange information digitally. Not only could messages or content designed for end use consumption be sent, but now, whether in text or graphic medium, information that served as input for production could be sent. Engineering schematics, draft articles, business data, all sent and shared with the opportunity of joint collaboration between individuals sitting in various points around the globe.
Today, this information travels through 70,000 plus interconnected computer networks where the interconnections, including consumer access to these networks, are provided by private firms. These investor-owned access providers, such as Comcast, Cox, Verizon, and AT&T, engage in the collection and trade of information that they obtain from their subscribers. Internet service providers such as Facebook and Google also engage in this information trade, using the information collected from the users of their services to package and sell to advertisers.
Net neutrality rule advocates have been arguing that government is needed to ensure that all messages, from live video used during surgeries to the video of a cat knocking over a bowl of milk, should get the same treatment from access providers, including sending data and information through at the same speeds and no blocking of Ali Bubba’s cat video sent from his private server because Comcast wants to send you an important video Amber Alert. Democratizing the internet, argues the net neutrality posse, means all data being treated equally. Democracy. That’s the problem
Somewhere along the commercialized internet’s quarter century history, democracy raised its ugly head, along with the irrational conflations that come along with it. Democracy, which simply means that the masses can choose their leaders, has now come to mean, when it comes to net neutrality, that the masses, outside of the price mechanism, can tell private companies how to manage the commercial platforms upon which information is traded. This includes requiring private firms to ignore the value of information coming across or captured in their networks and to abdicate the responsibility for determining how to dispose of, allocate, or price the information. Net neutrality is turning into an example of how tyranny by mass rule can be used to bludgeon investors who voluntarily come together to provide a product.
Rather than draft rules or even advocate for legislation that allows the State to intervene in the information markets via net neutrality, internet access, along with the rest of the internet ecosystem, should be self-regulated by its participants under any voluntary agreements they enter into, including agreements on how disputes should be settled, how data should be priced, and how fast it should flow.
Net neutrality rule advocates will argue that the State is needed to ensure the four freedoms the Commission introduces in today’s NPRM:
- Freedom to access lawful content;
- Freedom to use applications;
- Freedom to attach personal devices to the network; and
- Freedom to obtain service plan information.
I beg to differ. The only way your freedom to do any of the above would be abridged is if you were incarcerated or otherwise prohibited by the State from accessing lawful content, using applications, attaching personal devices, or obtaining service plan information.
And even if one access provider prohibited a consumer or producer from exchanging information and data on the provider’s network, the next action on the part of consumer or producer should be to find another network to store, transmit, or receive data. The last resort action would be for stakeholders to build their own networks.
Clearly the vast majority of consumers and producers don’t value data and information transmission via the internet high enough so that they would build their own networks. Then again, the vast majority of consumers and producers don’t have data so valuable that they could generate returns on such data and information that they could use the returns and invest them in such networks. Not even the mighty Google bothered to complete a global wide network themselves.
I see little value in the information exchanged via the internet short of the data and information exchanged by problem solvers; researchers that work in hard data that can be converted into inputs that are then used to build things. Access to the internet is not a right. When Americans start framing things as a right, such framing will attract the State and the way the State deals with problems is the way Loki would deal with an ant: by crushing it with his boot.