Barack Obama has endorsed some rather specific steps towards establishing bizarre principles that have been called "net neutrality".
Mr Obama is a U.S. citizen who contributed his opinion about this fad. FCC, the independent communications regulatory agency, promised not to discard this video diatribe and to add Mr Obama's rant in the queue behind 4,000,000 opinions of other citizens. FCC produced another proof that Mr Obama is not being ignored.
Ten years ago or so, I didn't know what the concept coined in 2003 was supposed to mean. A staunchly left-wing colleague whom I won't name was telling me it was such a wonderful thing. I wanted to know what it was but the answer I got was very vague.
It was some rule preventing the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from changing the flow of packets in any way that depends on the type of the data or servers that are participating in the communication.
Superficially, it sounds like a memorandum against censorship. The ISPs could ban – or slow down etc. – some particular type of Internet traffic that goes against their business strategy, that helps their competitors or the competitors of the ISPs' business partners, and so on.
The problem with all of that talk is that I've never experienced such a filtering in my life. That experience of mine covered AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and whatever ISPs are serving Harvard in the U.S. as well as O2, Czech Radiocommunication, and T-mobile in Czechia.
It's not just the experience that shows no traces of such a harmful filtering. It's also a basic logic of the market. If some providers start to restrict their consumers' ability to access some websites or Internet services, they will pay dearly. The consumers will inform each other and such an Internet connection where something sufficiently important is missing just won't be viewed as a full-fledged Internet service.
On the other hand, there can be extremely good reasons why an ISP would do similar things. Different telephone companies may have different strategies to earn cash – allowing you to call to numbers served by the same company for free; or, on the contrary, treating all companies including "yours" equivalently; offering you extensive services for free if you pay a monthly flat rate; and many other things.
In the same way, ISPs used to offer you different schemes how much data you can transfer, what happens afterwards, what the fee is, and so on. It was extremely useful for the utilization of the Internet resources when the widths were insufficient. Despite the growing popularity of movies streamed over the Internet etc., we no longer encounter the FUP limits at home these days. But similar limits are obviously still important for the mobile Internet. When users want to transfer large amounts of data, the ISP may solve this challenge in many ways and none of the strategies is a priori guaranteed to be the superior one!
Also, some Internet activities are more likely to cause trouble. In particular, peer-to-peer connections are often exploited to transfer copyrighted files – pirated films and other things. The ISPs may found themselves in legal problems as well and they may have various creative strategies to reduce this risk.
Another way for the ISPs not to be net-neutral in a creative way materializes when they may get some funding from teaming up with some other companies and selectively promote their services. I don't think it's happening to the extent that would really restrict the freedom of the consumers – because consumers wouldn't be too satisfied with such an Internet service – but it may be done so that the users are more likely to be led to some services – especially in cases when the users would choose their services from a list of competitors randomly. I don't see anything wrong about it. The ISP may get some extra resources for guaranteeing this preference and with this cash, it can make the services cheaper or better for the consumer in other respects. The consumer may think that it's a great deal if he can get XY for free just for being more or less lightly pushed towards the service CD.
ISPs may provide the Internet connection for a work environment where the users are not expected to watch porn movies, or even less problematic relaxing things, so there are good reasons to create filters, too.
At the airport and public places, it may be a good idea to discourage porn as well. That's why years ago, you couldn't have opened xxx.lanl.gov – the archive of physics preprints – at the airports. This problem was solved when the main name of the server was changed to arXiv.org. Note that the founder of the server, Paul Ginsparg, named the server "xxx" as a parody of "www" because according to his not so demanding sense of humor, he thought it was funny. ;-)
There are just many reasons why the freedom of the ISPs to manipulate the data in certain creative ways may be good for these ISPs – as well as its business partners and its consumers.
The idea that all this freedom to approach all these problems creatively – and perhaps differently than the competition – should be "banned" is just another sign that a person is mentally a communist. Freedom is always great and it improves things, at least in the long run. "Net neutrality" is a form of egalitarianism and it is wrong for the very analogous reasons. (Incidentally, the recently proposed and later abandoned Hungarian "Internet tax" with a flat fee per gigabyte is also a type of egalitarianism and it's plain wrong simply because not all gigabytes – regardless of their origin and destination and regardless of the content – are created equal. Some gigabytes going from somewhere to somewhere may be made extremely cheap by the market and technologies and its cheapness may be extremely useful for the flourishing of many other things. These things may be killed by the "Internet tax".)
I remember that exactly 20 years ago, I was among the dozen(s) of undergrads who were introducing the Internet to our student hostels in Prague-Trója. A team of three people would enter one of the rooms where students live, drilled a hole in the wall and another hole in the ceiling (we would scream "orgasm" whenever this step was completed – it was my know-how streamlining our communication), dragged the cables through the empty corridors right above the ceiling, installed the ethernet outlet, and did many other things.
Our über-geeks would teach us that the Internet was another infrastructure analogous to the water pipelines or the electric grid – you can just bring it wherever you want, in many ways, and it's always the same thing what you get at the end. This informal, innocent formulation of "net neutrality" is a good zeroth approximation that many laymen should be explained as well (so that you don't get the questions whether they can open seznam.cz while on vacations in France, or infinitely many silly questions like that: yes, you can).
But it's still a simplification. The precise technology used to get the Internet somewhere may affect the price of the connection and different servers and services one connects to in the Internet have different implications. And because the ISP is "helping" these applications of the Internet to materialize, it bears some of the responsibility and should be allowed to influence the traffic in the content-sensitive way as a way deal with its share of responsibility.
The right approach for the government is Hands off the Net principle (equivalently, the "F@ck off, Obama" dictum) which has been more or less true. Anything else is bound to reduce the innovation and harm someone. Anything else is based on demagogy building on fear – in a world where it is completely enough to deal with the actual harm when it's done and not just fear. Any policy built on fear and the claim that some freedom may perhaps hurt is refusing to see that the freedom may help as well and this positive effect may be larger, sometimes substantially.
Many advocates of the "net neutrality" openly admit that their final goal is to liquidate the ISPs – to destroy the companies and the capitalist system in that industry in general. And indeed, if one prevented the ISPs from making any decisions (different from others or from the "only right decisions"), there would be no reason to have many companies. OK, so they want the companies to disappear. Do I have to explain to you why these people are completely unhinged communist lunatics?
It's the competition in the markets that has allowed the Internet to become accessible to everyone. Just 12 years ago or so, when I needed to connect to the Internet in Pilsen, I would be paying several dollars per hour. Do you remember the Internet cafés and ad hoc connections through the phone and how expensive all these things were?
For the progress to materialize, it was extremely important that companies were allowed to search for better and cheaper solutions and that there wasn't "one universal price" for everyone and valid everywhere and independently of all technologies, and so on. It was even important that some data were being compressed during their transfer. And I could tell you about the much more dramatic progress that the telephone providers have experienced since the time when this industry was privatized in Czechia. The telephone networks would be called "special" and "appropriate to be owned and controlled by the government" by certain advocates of socialism.
No sane person in 2014 doubts that the industry of telephone providers is a canonical standard example of an industry where the capitalism shows its effective muscles extremely clearly. (The railways and bus networks may be cited as additional examples, in almost the same way.) And there is no reason to expect that it will be any different for the ISPs and for the many structured layers of the Internet services that may sometimes use some extra data about the user, her location, her habits, and properties of her connection.
Just like virtually all other types of the government regulation (including carbon caps, carbon taxes, and concentration camps), this brand of regulation is promoted by arrogant morons who only see the costs of something but they don't see benefits at all (or versa) but whose fundamental and virtually unlimited stupidity and blindness doesn't prevent them from thinking that they're the right guys who should command everyone else. Yes, I think that it is right to count Mr Obama to this family of arrogant morons.
To regulate away the freedom in business is always counterproductive. At the end, I think that this particular fight against the non-existent problem is a method for the government to put itself "above" all the ISPs as well as all the users, it is creepy, and for that reason, I urge you to reject "net neutrality" regardless of the number of sweet demagogic words you will be bombarded by.
And that's the memo.
A video related to the arrogance of power: Prof Jonathan Gruber of MIT, a father of ObamaCare, boasts that he was able to make the sick law pass by making it opaque (a huge political advantage), by hiding that the mandate is a form of taxes, and that it is a method to steal from the rich, healthy people. The bill was allowed to pass because the Congressmen and the American voters are idiots, he proudly asserts. But he must be right because the bill really is very sick and it did pass.