Zero rating: unlimited Facebook data for cell phones
Yesterday, The New York Times wrote an insightful text about the minority activists' opinions about the net neutrality meme.
The conservative judge Antonin Scalia has supported this egalitarian concept for a decade. But most of the "civil rights groups" that The New York Times enumerates actually oppose net neutrality:
- National Urban League
- Rainbow/PUSH Coalition [Jesse Jackson]
- League of United Latin American Citizens
- National Organization of Blacks in Government
Also, 32 Academics sent a letter to the FCC where they oppose Obama-style net neutrality.
My fundamental reasons to oppose net neutrality are clear. It is a form of egalitarianism, a forced distortion of the market that pushes the ISPs to hide certain costs and benefits, risks and profit potential, and other things. They prevent them and Internet services from making experiments. Net neutrality is a method to make high-reliability guaranteed connections impossible. It is a tool to demand unrealistic infinite capacity of Internet connections and to force the consumer to pay for this inefficient usage of the resources. It is a regulation preventing the rich people and companies from enjoying high quality services and the poor ones from having cheap services, and so on, and so on. Net neutrality is way too similar to very many egalitarian policies we would know during communism – like the same bus lines going to every village – which symbolize the striking inefficiencies of communism's ability to use the resources. Net neutrality is "simply not clever".
Freedom works and net neutrality is a way to restrict the people's freedom and a statistically large amount of restrictions of freedom is always bad. That's really where I am coming from.
I don't think that the "civil rights groups" really see the problem from this most general perspective. If they could both understand and admit these principles, they would no longer be the leftists that they mostly are. (If there happens to be a conservative of Libertarian employee of these groups, I apologize to him or her for the insult.) But they may still see some "minor projections" of the principles of freedom that they otherwise want to overlook throughout their lives. Freedom is a very powerful concept and it has many projections and implications, indeed.
It seems rather clear that the "zero rating" plans – a technicality or a seemingly unimportant example – are what decides about the attitude of numerous groups. You may also read DailySignal.com articles by James Gattuso and Michael Sargent.
The point is that many poor non-Caucasian neighborhoods are mostly connecting to the Internet via cell phones. And as you can imagine, ISPs and their consumers can't really afford unlimited mobile data plans. The potential amount of data that people would love to download – if they were allowed to do so – could be unacceptably huge, exceeding the actual capacity of the mobile data network.
However, it's possible for the providers to allow unlimited connections to a particular well-defined server such as Facebook. In particular, Sprint wanted to offer a Facebook-only plan for cell phones – which is a great idea. The stinky U.S. federal government killed this innovative idea. Nevertheless, related plans already exist, anyway. Some mobile data providers have a contract with Facebook or Spotify (but also Wikipedia and Google have used the concept) and they don't count the bytes transmitted between the cell phone owner and those big services into the monthly data cap (in their terminology, these servers get the "zero rating", meaning that their transmitted bytes are multiplied by zero). So you may connect to Facebook or Spotify through your cell phone as many times as you want.
Clearly, this is a textbook example violating net neutrality. All the would-be terrifying talking points of the net neutrality advocates apply to this situation. It is a situation in which "evil" huge Internet services such as Facebook or Spotify may get some extra advantages because they may afford to pay for them. To some extent, they have a monopoly over the unlimited Internet access in some suburbs and monopolies are evil, aren't they?
The problem with this argument is that monopolies that are created from the bottom, naturally, without an oppressive government system that protects them, are good and beneficial for everyone. And the majority of the black and Hispanic "civil rights groups" know that very well. There simply exist neighborhoods for which this unlimited mobile connection to Facebook is a wonderful thing – I would love to have it myself even though I don't really use FB these days. ;-) It can really make a difference to the minorities' connectivity with the modern world.
But it may only work if the amount of data that is transmitted according to this simple plan is bounded from above in the real world. One simply can't allow such a thing for all servers on the Internet. One can only allow it for some of them – and the server's payments are the most natural way to determine the privileged ones. Without this breaking of the symmetry, the cell phone users could have no plans with unlimited mobile data. The de facto monopoly is a great thing for the consumer. The ISP and Facebook or Spotify may benefit, too. But like in all typical examples of the free markets, they benefit because their consumers benefit first (or because they benefit as well).
The opinion that "everything that looks like a monopoly from any viewpoint is evil and has to be wrestled with" may be sold as a slogan to defend the free markets but in reality, the sentiment that drives this thinking is always a deeply rooted anti-market fanaticism. Every sufficiently intelligent policy or operation of a company in the free market resembles a "cartel" or another "anti-competitive measure" or a "symmetry breaking" and our prosperous economies are literally made out of these things!
If you fight against the rights of the companies to choose their business partners and/or to selectively demand different compensations for different kinds of packets or packets sent from/to different companies, you are definitely throwing the baby out with the bath water. Markets can't operate without these basic rights. If you are a net neutrality advocate, then you demonize the elementary acts that capitalism is composed of – and you are helping to effectively disconnect millions of Americans from the Internet, too.