The FCC has approved some proposal to establish "net neutrality", probably treating the packets on par with electricity, gas, or feces in the sewerage system – instead of information services which is how the Internet data have been classified so far. Even though those 300+ pages should have been posted on the FCC website yesterday, I can't find it. The whole institution seems to be a complete mess.
Despite the absence of the document, lots of clueless people celebrate this "achievement". Exceptions – sensible reactions – are rare. Matt Walsh of The Blaze, an information ecosystem founded by Glenn Beck, is one of these exceptions.
The transition from the good old Internet as originally invented by Al Gore ;-) to the Obamanet is wrong for numerous reason. In particular, it may be described as
- a cure for a non-existent disease
- a partial nationalization of the industry and the ISP companies
- forced egalitarianism
- blow to innovation in technologies depending on prioritization
- forced price distortion
- contamination of the legal system by hundreds of pages of junk that may contain secret timebombs threatening every other person on the Internet
- transition of power from somewhat ineffective large ISP companies to an even more inefficient organization, the government
- risk of censorship by the government
Let me add a few more sentences to clarify the eight points listed above.
A cure waiting for a disease
The slogan says it all. The rules are defended by the proposition that they will save us from some bad things. Except that no one seems to witness any problems of this kind. The advertised threat is purely hypothetical but someone – the government – declares himself to be the warrior against the threat, a savior, and such a trick is always dangerous and almost always counterproductive because it gives some unjustifiable powers to the wrong people – people whose greatest "virtue" is the ability to brainwash lots of gullible folks.
Other fictitious threats – like the threats sold by the advocates of eugenics or the global warming hysteria – have led to huge ethical, human, and economic losses, too.
The Internet Service Providers have made (and are still making) certain nontrivial investments into the infrastructure. These investments were based on certain assumptions about their right to collect the compensation and repay these investments. Their ability to turn the traffic on and off, to make it faster and slower is obviously an important part of their "muscles" that allow the companies to get their money back.
To reduce the rights of these companies to operate means to steal a portion of these companies from their owners – and to steal their future profits. (You may also say that it's the previously invested money that is being stolen.) It's therefore a nationalization or confiscation of a sort, an act analogous to what Lenin or Gottwald did in the early or mid 20th century, fortunately just a partial one and one that only affects a relatively minor portion of one industry, the Internet.
Another silver lining for these companies is that they may simply transfer the lost profit to the consumers – the prices of the plans will go up.
Net neutrality is based on the idea that all companies will have the same access to the screens of the users. But as long as the core of freedom and sanity is preserved, it will never be the case. Internet content providers that offer interesting and valuable things will always be more likely to appear on the screens of the users and those who offer less will be less likely to achieve the same thing.
Those who offer interesting and valuable things are also likely to get wealthier and the wealth may be multiplied and invested to create new wealth. This is always possible in the market economy. It's really the very point of the money. A richer company could have subsidized its users on the other side in various ways (this "help" allowing the users to get redirected to the websites of the more influential companies was good for the Internet users as well because otherwise they would be flooded in the disorganized cesspool containing mostly assorted junk) and this will be banned. There is no rational justification of this ban. The ban is only justified by would-be moralist screams that effectively boil down to egalitarianism – to an irrational, left-wing ideology.
But companies are not created equal and packets are not created equal, either. Even different objects that travel through the sewerage system – another utility – should often be treated differently. For example, it's fine for water to flow on the sidewalk but it's less fine when liquid feces are moving in the same way. The managers of the sewers sometimes want to treat different content differently and it is a very good idea to do so, otherwise they wouldn't do it.
This egalitarianism is wrong because the consumer isn't offered the spectrum of options he used to have. The ISPs will be forced to be the same like everyone else – neutral – and what it exactly means must be defined by someone else – and it will be the government. Because the creative diversity concerning all the plans and prioritization and special arrangements will be outlawed, for all practical purposes, all the ISPs will effectively be one company and you may call it a state-controlled company, too. So far, some content providers may have been OK with a slower connection to its users, and they may have saved some money for their connection. Others may have needed a more robust connection to its users. When the egalitarianism is imposed, the first class of content providers (the modest ones) won't be able to save the money for their connection and the second class (the demanding ones) won't be able to get the superb service they need despite their wealth.
Blow to innovation
As Angela Merkel pointed out in her criticism of the concept of net neutrality, driverless cars or remote surgeries may depend on more reliable Internet connections. They may be guaranteed with the existing infrastructure if these services enjoy the appropriately elevated priority. This prioritization should be banned by the FCC now so this may be a problem for the driverless cars, remote surgeons, and others (including those that no one has dared to think about yet).
I believe that there exist much more mundane examples of prioritization that is clearly beneficial.
If your electronic device and a server need to exchange 100 very small packets per day, e.g. if you're checking for updates of your apps one by one, or something like that, this is clearly a tiny portion of the capacity of the Internet wires. If you transmit these small and rare packets with a better priority, it almost doesn't affect anyone else but it may hugely improve your experience because the update process is completed much more quickly.
On the other hand, if someone is watching movies that require lots of data to be transferred, his computer or electronic device is likely to have buffered several seconds of the video. That's why it's not important to be "certain" that he won't accumulate half a second delay. So the streaming videos – except for their beginning – may have a lower priority and it doesn't hurt.
The last paragraph has a clear real-world application, Netflix. Yes, I do think that NetFlix should have a lower priority, or should pay extra money if it wants to stay at the same priority of others. What do I mean by "should"? What I mean is that a wise manager of the Internet wires will probably arrange the priorities in this way because his goal is to bring the best possible product for the users. So whenever the users notice the seemingly unnecessary delays and may get very annoyed by them, the wise ISP should increase the priority of these packets. On the other hand, whenever the small delays seem to be largely inconsequential, the ISP may lower the priority.
It's common sense and to ban it is simply a bad idea! Many of the mindless defenders of "net neutrality" like to say that "a user obviously wants all traffic to arrive at the same speed". But that's not what a sane or real-world user wants. A sane or real-world user wants to have the best experience and it is a very different thing from a uniform speed.
If the ISPs are not allowed to lower the priority of the "troublemakers" such as Netflix, it means that these troublemakers with the huge data transfers make the final product noticeably less usable for other types of the content. So far, the ISP could have solved such situations – one group of users/servers makes the experience for others noticeably worse – by changing the priority or it could have collected some extra money from the culprits and, perhaps, use the money to increase the capacity of the wires.
These sensible solutions of the real problem is going to be banned. Netflix could have conquered a fraction of the Internet traffic which led to costs – the degraded experience for all the other users. These costs will have to remain hidden under "net neutrality". So the "culprits" that make the Internet experience worse will live from the money of others – including innocent users or innocent other content providers. It means that the prices of the connections will be distorted by this forced egalitarianism.
In general, distorted prices are bad because the culprits (I chose Netflix as an example but of course it's just a label to sound specific, there could probably be better examples and my point is more general) will be free to become increasingly annoying pains in the neck. The free market is the best regime to deal with all such problems and "net neutrality" is 300+ pages of regulation which makes the market largely "unfree".
Contamination of the legal system
The Internet technology and protocols are difficult pieces of know-how but they are not infinitely complicated. More importantly, all these technicalities could have been ignored by the content providers as well as the users on the other side of the wire. People – the users and the content providers – could simply connect to the Internet and things worked.
Now, we will have something like 300+ pages of obscure arbitrary rules full of bureaucratic jargon that have the potential to be relevant for the behavior of rather generic people on the Internet. Of course that I want to believe that these 300+ pages will be totally irrelevant for people like bloggers but I am not 100% certain even about this simple thing.
If I were de iure or de facto forced to read these 300+ pages written by aßholes who don't understand basic economics, who lack common sense, but who want to be considered as the Messiahs, I would probably quit blogging. I can tolerate something like Obama in the White House as long as he doesn't touch my sphere of influence. You were elected by millions of idiots, Barack, and it's just fine because you don't matter. If he did matter, however, that would be a huge problem.
There are many parts of the legal system that are insanely complicated – like the tax code. Every sensible person realizes that this complexity is a serious problem and the 300+ pages of "net neutrality" rules are making the problem worse. Network engineers will be forced to become parttime lawyers to deal with this new layer of šit. People will be more afraid to do business because there may be a new devil in the details.
Transition from non-flexible companies to a worse one
The ISPs, like utilities, are usually viewed as "not too sexy" companies, and for a good reason. They partly work like the companies we knew in socialism. They are large companies living in the environment where the competition is somewhat limited and hard to display itself in practice. (I don't actually believe that this negative description applies to the ISPs in Czechia anymore. The competition is as healthy as you can get, they are doing a great job, and the radical improvement from the age of communism may only be overlooked by blind people and communist bigots.)
Note that the ISPs are somewhat similar to the electric utilities and other utilities so reclassifying the ISPs as utilities is unlikely to improve the situation. On the contrary.
The real reason behind the shortage of freshness (whenever it applies) is that these ISPs are companies that are similar to the government in some respects. When you transfer their powers – what they were able to decide so far – to the government, things will clearly become worse because the government isn't just "like a government". The government is a government! And that's a kind of a bummer.
Just look at the fcc.gov website and compare its usability with that of google.com or maps.google.com or bing.com or even verizon.com. Find the new law over there or at least, obtain the evidence that it is there or it is not there (at fcc.gov). Instead, you will notice that they can't even post basic documents in conventional, readable formats. Do you really want similar people to be put "above" the bosses of the ISPs or even the Internet companies? Do you really believe that this will improve the Internet?
So far, the government has had almost no right to influence what is going through the cables and at what speed. Except for NSA that (hopefully passively) records everyone, the government had neither tentacles nor testicles to penetrate this deep into the Internet wires. The "net neutrality" rules change that. The propaganda says that the government will be protecting some wonderful values or principles – even though I have explained above that there is nothing positive about these principles and values whatever.
But even if an intelligent person believed that the "net neutrality" is a positive thing, he couldn't overlook that it's just a positive propaganda. In reality, the law gives new powers to the government, and they may be used or abused in many different – positive or negative – ways. The idea that the governments and government officials are systematically using their powers to make the lives of all the good citizens better is a belief that only folks with a serious psychiatic disease may take seriously.
If a politician or a government bureaucrat has the power to influence X or Y and have some advantages from that, be sure that he will do it. Or his colleague will. While the ISPs were motivated by the profit – i.e. by the financial efficiency – the politicians and the government bureaucrats are usually motivated by their petty, purely personal or ideological motives that are in no way positively correlated with the well-being of the society or the efficiency of the industry.
It is self-evident that most applications of the new government powers will be harmful for most people and companies in the business. It can't be otherwise and it has never been otherwise.
I don't believe that someone connected to the Obama administration will be able to find a "net neutral" way to make my blog invisible just because I point out that they are a bunch of clueless, power-thirsty parasites celebrating a primitive ideology and that they are pigs above a feeding trough who are licking the rectum of their crackpot-in-chief. I don't believe that it's possible. But I am sure that they will be tempted to do similar things and some of them may actually succeed.
For all these reasons – and because the new policies are very likely to make the Internet services more expensive for most users, of course – all these developments are bad news and only dimwits can't see it.