A Facebook Dialogue on Net Neutrality

So yesterday I gave in and engaged a conservative on Facebook that was spouting nonsense about net neutrality.
CON: Multinational corporations such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. put together the “Net Neutrality” movement to help their bottom line. The end of free internet begins when the Gov’t starts regulating it.

ME: I call bullshit on [CON]. “Net neutrality” as it is called means keeping the internet the way it is now. The only government regulation is preventing internet service providers and telecom companies from throttling the bandwidth of non-corporate websites. If there is a local band offering a free download of their album on their website, the download could take a hell of a lot longer than it does now since full upload/download speed would be reserved for the big corporate music sites.

Without net neutrality telecom sites could drastically drop the bandwidth of sites that they oppose politically. Do we really want corporations to be able to influence the flow of online traffic to serve their own ends?

Plus, failure to guarantee net neutrality would provide a stepping stone for the telecom companies to switch to a European internet pricing model where instead of unlimited monthly usage we would pay per megabyte used per month. That is one of the big reasons the companies mentioned are supportive. Pay-per-MB means less internet usage, which means sites like YouTube and Amazon would suffer large drops in traffic and revenue.

Opposing net neutrality is only good for telecom companies and certain corporate web entities. Calling it government regulation in order to scare people away from supporting it is misleading and dishonest.

CON: The free market currently works, and now corporate interests and their apologists want to regulate freedom away to increase corporate profits. IP providers discriminate and regulate internet service all the time right now. T1 lines versus T3 lines, e-mail packets preferred over video streaming. Internet hogs like Google will pay more than e-mail browsers, which is the nature of the game. The Internet has heralded the greatest innovations known to man, and people want to regulate it, stifle it, and destroy the freedom we have using government regulation.

ME: Net neutrality isn’t about what you pay for your general internet speed. Sure, companies with dedicated T3 lines pay more than home users with a cable modem who pay more than dial-up users. In those cases you are paying for general bandwidth: you download everything online faster.

Net neutrality is about throttling bandwidth for certain websites. Let’s say you currently pay for a DSL connection with a 1.5 MB/S download speed. As things are now, you have that download speed for any web content you access, regardless if it is video, a corporate website, or your friend’s small webpage memorializing Geocities.

Without net neutrality, instead of having that 1.5 MB/S download speed for everything, you would only have that speed for major corporate web entities. Downloading that MP3 from a local band’s website will only be 144 KB/S. You will be paying the same amount or more for that DSL connection, but for everything but certain corporate sites it will be dramatically slower.

Preferred email packets exist to solve the time-critical problem that emerged occasionally on congested networks. If traffic is too congested, packets are held in queue buffers, and time-critical packets (email) are in preferred queue buffers. This is a solution to prevent time-critical information from being overly delayed during periods of high congestion, not preference based on source. Now if only email sent to you from preferred companies were placed in the preferred queue buffer that would be an example of what telecoms would like to do.

CON: You just argued for no government regulation, then said therefore government regulation is good. We all want a free internet, but the question is, how do you get there? Answer: it’s here, brought to you by no government regulation and a free market! Why create burdensome regulations with grave unforeseen consequences to fix what isn’t broken? Health care is broken, so fix it. Social Security is broke, so fix it. Internet? Free market, no regulation, and it works perfectly.

It’s weird how leftists have a problem applying the concept of evolution to anything but biological processes. If people aren’t happy with their internet service, they get another one and the crappy one goes out of business. If a service doesn’t provide a service people want, it goes bankrupt… hence no need to regulate the Internets.

ME: I have no idea where you came up with this apparent contradiction. If you are talking about email packets, that isn’t the government. You are using “government regulation” as a straw man. Net neutrality is about keeping the internet the way it is now. It is about preventing corporate regulation of the internet.

And we have the internet because of the government. It was created by DARPA and spread with government funding by the NSF. The market didn’t have anything to do with the internet until the mid-1990s.

You say the free market with no regulation works perfectly while the country is still reeling from the effects of unregulated free market Wall Street.

Your argument that people can always choose another internet service provider and that the free market will lead to natural selection (not evolution, as you said) doesn’t hold since choice is limited, the barriers to entry are prohibitive for new companies (infrastructure), and the few telecom companies form an oligopoly that often act in concert. Consumer choice is normally between DSL, cable, or dial-up. There aren’t many if any choices between those options. If you want cable internet you are stuck with the provider that covers your area.

CON: The financial crisis occurred because of the Federal Reserve. Here is a great piece by Judge Posner:


This type of situation will occur again with the Internet if the government starts regulating it. Prices will skyrocket, accessibility will go down, and we all will suffer the hardships that accompany a burdensome government.

ME: Obviously you are not very familiar with Judge Posner’s work, or you would not have handed him to me as your example.

First, even in the piece you linked to, Posner states: “This was the decisive error that put too much risk into the economy, against a background of deregulation that allowed the banking industry to take whatever level of risk was profit maximizing given interest rates.”

He is arguing that the Fed regulated poorly, not that there shouldn’t be regulation, and that it was a problem because the deregulation of the banking industry.

Let’s look at his piece from the Wall Street Journal earlier that month. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124165301306893763.html

“The banking crash might not have occurred had banking not been progressively deregulated beginning in the 1970s. Before deregulation banks were forbidden to pay interest on demand deposits. This gave them a cheap source of capital, which enabled them to make money even on low-risk short-term loans. Competition between banks was discouraged by limits on the issuance of bank charters and by (in some states) not permitting banks to establish branch offices. And nonbank finance companies (such as broker-dealers, money-market funds and hedge funds) did not offer close substitutes for regulated banking services.”

Posner argues that the crisis may not have occurred if it wasn’t for deregulation.

“The second lesson is that we may need more regulation of banking to reduce its inherent riskiness.”

Posner believes we need more regulation of the banking industry, not less.

CON: Here’s the problem, “Net neutrality” will disrupt the free flow of information and wil literally lead to a clogging of the series of tubes that make up the internets. In the beginning, Al Gore created the Internet, then Bush pluralized it, and the consensus was hands off…until now, because Google and other corporate interests want to scare people into getting the government to regulate away a free Internet in order to line their pockets.

At that point I just gave up. It was like talking to a television as it played Fox News. I engaged because I am honestly baffled when a young person is against net neutrality. I get why some old politicians are against it, but a young internet user?