A couple of days ago, big name companies like Google and Facebook protested the removal of so-called net neutrality “privacy” regulations. How interesting that the companies that have benefited over their competitors from such regulations would come out protesting against removing them (https://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhomonoff/2016/10/31/fcc-ad-privacy-ups-facebook-google-and-downs-everyone-else/#6eb8e31f54ae). Then again, that is exactly what so-called “net neutrality” beckons. The argument of net neutrality basically involves the idea of the government regulating the Internet in order to, theoretically, make all information be sent at the same speed regardless of source, destination, and content with very limited exceptions for traffic that’s illegal, malicious, or unwanted. Supporters of such a move defend NN as necessary in order to “look out for the little guy” and to keep ISPs from “discriminating” according to the service provided. The concept sounds great on paper, but ultimately what defeats it is when such a concept has to be worked out.
A recent development from the FCC involves a plan to roll back the net neutrality policies that were implemented by the regulatory body during the Obama administration (http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/26/technology/fcc-net-neutrality/). For all the talk of such policies being needed for “fairness” (which of course is purposefully vague, as with any justification for regulatory schemes…and despite the fact that so-called privacy protections already exist for the Internet – https://fee.org/articles/net-neutrality-is-about-government-control-of-the-internet/), such policies run the risk of stifling growth and innovation (just as they did for the phone industry before it was deregulated, and other public utilities)….as well as punishing those companies that dare to expand internet access to others that bureaucrats don’t “approve” of (because I guess it is better for those not as well off to have no access to Internet connectivity rather than some, right?) (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2014/11/13/net-neutrality-is-a-bad-idea-supported-by-poor-analogies/; http://reason.com/archives/2014/11/12/net-neutrality-is-a-lousy-idea; http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshsteimle/2014/05/14/am-i-the-only-techie-against-net-neutrality/; http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2014/05/21/net_neutrality_is_a_bad_idea_thats_run_its_course_101068.html; http://www.cato.org/blog/net-neutrality-or-destroying-internet-innovation-investment; http://www.internetfreedomcoalition.com/?p=4342; https://www.wired.com/2015/05/backlash-facebooks-free-internet-service-grows/).
They also serve nothing less than giving large ISPs with political clout and influence, like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Google, and Facebook etc. more influence in rent-seeking (again why no one should be surprised why such companies are coming out against their removal), crowding out other forms of innovation and investment that could serve to potentially threaten the monoliths in the industry. By consequence, this will in effect limit the choices and possibilities that potential customers can have (in effect, harming the “little guy” that NN proponents claim to want to help).
It is a sad truth that as regulatory creep has grown, companies are increasingly finding it profitable to lobby public officials, which of course is an advantage to larger corporations as they have the resources to do so over their smaller competitors (https://danieljmitchell.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/a-very-depressing-chart-on-creeping-cronyism-in-the-american-economy/). This raises a serious question as to how policy should work going forward. In the drive for “fairness”, some forces will end up getting more perks over others, in effect picking winners and losers. It would be wonderful if a world of neutral application of a private service existed, but that isn’t how the real world works. When dealing with scare resources and labor, how such goods and services get distributed should be connected to how effectively they can be harnessed. Such decisions are better left to those who actually operate in such a field, not public bureaucrats and political convenience. Policy should reflect that reality. The internet has developed quite fine without the need for central-planning. No reason to change that now.