Well, here we are again.
But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has just voted to block Net Neutrality and not only is this a very bad thing but the Pro-Control lobby is using the same flawed logic as before.
In brief Net Neutrality means that communications companies will not be allowed to restrict people’s Internet use. What the companies want to be able to do is create 2 types of Internet: “slow” and “premium”. In order to get “premium” you will have to pay them large amounts of money, and if you work for a company that is a competitor to one of the communications companies (or their allies) then you will never be allowed to get into the Internet fast lane. You will have to do the best you can with the Internet speed you had in 1998.
Lobbyists and mouthpieces for the communications companies say that this is untrue, and that they have no intention of creating their own controls over the Internet. The fact that this is a lie is easy to see if one asks a simple question: “then why are they opposing laws that would stop them?”
All that Net Neutrality laws do is prevent companies from restricting Internet use. The only reason to oppose them is if you want a way to restrict Internet use. The communications companies actions speak for themselves.
There is of course a counter to this argument. Some communications companies have argued that if corporations are not allowed to control the Internet then their profits will go down, and thus their “creativity will be stifled”, or something.
People use the same argument to oppose greater taxes on the wealthy, and it falls apart here for the same reason: nothing, but nothing, is going to stop companies from sucking every available cent from the Internet, whether there are a lot of cents, or just a few.
Think of it like this: if a company could make a billion dollars from the Internet, would it choose to do so? Of course it would, that’s business.
But if it turns out that it could only make a million dollars from the Internet, would it throw up its hands and say “Bah! Not worth my time”? Of course not, someone would see the opportunity to make that money and go for it.
What the opponents of Net Neutrality are trying to say is that if Net Neutrality comes to pass Internet innovation will start to stagnate and the infrastructure will rapidly become obsolete.
There are several reasons why this is bullshit.
Firstly, neither Net Neutrality nor its opponents are saying anything about forcing companies to keep technology current. What opponents of Net Neutrality are saying is that communications companies need to control the Internet in order to guarantee the profits they need to justify upgrading.
They further claim that companies will need to upgrade in order to remain competitive.
The thing is though…that logic applies whether we have Net Neutrality or not. Even if Neutrality remains strong companies will still have to battle to remain technologically advanced, or they will lose customers.
In fact if Net Neutrality is destroyed, if anything, companies will lose motivation to compete because they won’t need to compete in order to increase profits, they can just impose extra charges.
But won’t they have to keep charges low in order to keep customers? Sadly, no. All they will have to do is all increase costs, in different areas of the service, which will make all Internet usage more expensive. It won’t matter which company you use because they will all be more expensive, just in different ways. But right now those “different ways” can’t be used because Net Neutrality (and public opinion) prevents companies from charging different fees for web usage.
Now, let’s go back to the idea that if Net Neutrality stays strong companies will stop investing in the Internet. There are two reasons why this is wrong. Firstly, we currently have a decent amount of Net Neutrality and companies are battling each other to the death for the opportunity of investing in the ‘Net. So this is clearly not a problem.
Secondly, this idea fails because it’s fucking retarded.
I mean seriously, think about it. What opponents of Net Neutrality are saying is that if Net Neutrality isn’t defeated companies will just avoid the Internet. They are saying that companies will still be able to make tons and tons of money off the ‘Net, but they will choose to turn away from these massive profits because they won’t be quite as massive as they would have been if Net Neutrality had been torn down.
Is there anybody who takes this stupidity seriously?
Sadly, yes there is. Last year Larry Downes wrote an article expressing just that sentiment.
He spends some time in the article explaining what has been happening around Net Neutrality. He spends far too much time saying that “this isn’t the 90s any more” (thank you Larry, you are clearly a genius), but he spends remarkably little time explaining exactly wtf he is against Net Neutrality.
Let me summarise his argument:
1) “This isn’t the 90s any more.
Shit, it isn’t even the 2000s any more.
Fuck me, time sure does fly don’t it?
Anyway, Net Neutrality is bad.
It’s bad because it’s so totally bad, and will strangle innovation in ways I am unable to adequately explain, but trust me, I’ve written books.”
2) “Even if we lose Net Neutrality there is no evidence that companies will abuse their power.
I mean sure it’s already happened a bunch of times, with both Internet and cellphone access, but those issues were totally dealt with.
No, I don’t mean the companies fixed the problems, I mean the companies were caught red-handed and forced to change by the public.
Why you guys so mean to companies? Companies are nice, and pay my consulting fees.
Look, this isn’t the 90s, ok?
Things are different now.”
3) “Yes, I know I spend ages complaining that Net Neutrality is going to keep the Internet from evolving, while simultaneously listing ways in which the Internet is constantly evolving but this is not a obvious contradiction!
THIS ISN”T THE NINETIES ANY MORE!”
4) “Net Neutrality advocates want to keep the ‘Net the way it was back then. And sure, it was great, and created the most rapid technological advance in history but we can’t do that any more.
Why not? Because companies say that if it stays like that our technology won’t advance any more.
And regulating industries is bad, man, real bad. Companies need to be free from regulation.
Just look at banks.”
5) “Wait, no. Don’t look at banks! My bad. I meant trains, look at trains.
I mean sure there were monopolies in trains that totally screwed stuff up, but the regulation was also bad. Really bad.
6) “What was I talking about?”
7) “The Internet is amazing, really amazing. And that’s why I spend many paragraphs talking about how amazing it is, and only 3 fucking lines explaining why Net Neutrality is bad.
Why is it bad? Well, it’s bad because any control over the Internet will stifle creativity!
And that’s why I think that laws that prevent corporations from controlling the Internet should be stopped forever! :D”
I’m not even joking.
Ok, yes, I am joking. But what I’m not joking about is Downes’ argument. He is actually saying, while apparently maintaining a straight face, that control over the Internet will stifle creativity, and that corporations should therefore be allowed to control the Internet.
Bitch, what you smoking?
What worries me is that people who have not been trained in the arts of critical thinking will read what he’s written and think “yeah, that makes sense”.
Downes will say that I am creating a strawman of his argument. Sorry Larry, I’m really not. The only factual objection to Net Neutrality that you mention in your article is the one I discussed above, and it is stupid.
And for the record: Moore’s law (the observation that computing power roughly doubles every two years) is an argument in favour of Net Neutrality, not against it. If the speed of our technology continues to advance then that makes it less likely that companies will “need” to control the Internet, because Internet resources will become more plentiful, not less.
Opponents to Net Neutrality are arguing in favour of communications companies being allowed to manufacture shortages of an abundant resource, just like Enron with California’s electricity.
See Larry? I can quote examples of deregulation too :)
In any event the best we can do is remain up to date on the legislation and oppose anti-Net Neutrality laws wherever they appear.
Because this battle is far from over and what is at stake is everything you see when you click “Google Search”.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]