Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

The End of the Internet, Film at 11… Again

Jerry Stratton, February 11, 2015

Kentucky Fried Movie News

“Net Neutrality in flames, missiles headed toward Internet. Film at 11.”

Whenever someone starts telling me it’s the end of the world if we don’t TAKE ACtION NOW!!!!! DON’T STOP TO THINK!!! I immediately… slow down and stop to think. I don’t trust that.1

Now, I don’t have any strong opinions one way or another regarding net neutrality. I am, however, far more inclined to oppose it now that I’ve started listening to one of its more vocal partisans.

A few days ago, an acquaintance on Google+ posted a link to James J. Heaney’s Why Free Marketeers Want To Regulate the Internet. It doesn’t teach much of anything new about net neutrality, but it does seem to be a bit disingenuous in its arguments in favor of it. It’s a bit telling that he uses the breakup of AT&T (“Ma Bell”) as an example of when the government should exercise strong restrictions on businesses, but he didn’t go into the reasons why AT&T was a monopoly in the first place: AT&T was originally a government-created monopoly.

Similarly, he alludes to but does not address what is likely the major driver of high ISP costs: local cable monopolies granted by local governments. It is often the case that problems caused by government result in government officials telling us that we need more government regulation to solve those problems.

It’s also often a lie.

Later in the article, he writes “Because—as Republican free marketeers know—an unregulated natural monopoly is far worse than even a government takeover.” He may be right about Republican free marketeers, but conservatives are likely to disagree. A “natural monopoly” can be overthrown when technology advances to the point that it is no longer a natural monopoly. But a government takeover can use laws to overtax or even make illegal innovations that would disrupt their control. Sometimes even inadvertently (for example, requiring emissions testing on all-electric vehicles). This is not to say that Heaney is wrong in his conclusion. But there does seem to be a bit of a disconnect in his logic, as well:

  1. Net Neutrality was the law until a few years ago.
  2. ISPs have been able to charge exorbitant prices all throughout Net Neutrality.
  3. Therefore, we need to reinstate Net Neutrality.

I may be biased, seeing as my cost of Internet access is relatively low due to the fear, not of government regulation, but of Google’s high-speed service coming to my area.2 It seems to me that if high ISP prices are the issue, we would do better to stop granting monopolies to what is currently the most effective broadband option, cable.

Heaney writes in a follow-up that he isn’t advocating regulation of the Internet, just the infrastructure. The problem is that the laws currently being discussed as “Net Neutrality” appear to be about regulating the Internet. Further, he says that arguments that invoking Title II against the infrastructure would “force the FCC” to also invoke it against content providers are spurious, in that nothing forces the FCC to so act. But that’s not the argument. The argument is that it would allow the FCC to also invoke it against content providers, which of course it does. And if the Internet is just a series of tubes, as Heaney claims, then regulation of those who dump into the tubes follows pretty logically.

Heaney does, however, seem to be more reasonable than the people citing him in all-caps.

“You stupid motherfucker, Net Neutrality is how the internet works RIGHT NOW and how it has ALWAYS WORKED!! Why do you keep fucking lying?”

The thing is, the FCC isn’t currently trying to just put things back the way they were. The way things were was Title I under the Telecommunications Act. That means light regulation and a more free and open Internet. The FCC wants to invoke Title II regulatory powers, which means a much heavier hand from the government. Title II authorizes a lot more regulations than Title I did. So many more regulations that they need over 300 pages to describe what they’re going to do—300 pages that they aren’t showing us. If all they were doing was re-enabling Title I, they wouldn’t have to hide it from us and they wouldn’t need such a tome. They could just reference what they used before that “ALWAYS WORKED!!”.

The argument that follows is that even though the government’s power under Title II is so much greater than their power under Title I, they’re not going to actually use that power. But while it is most likely true that the FCC can use Title II to do only what they did under Title I, if that was all they wanted to do, they wouldn’t be working behind closed doors. Further, they wouldn’t have any trouble pulling enough votes in Congress to pass a one-paragraph bill that extends Title I to the Internet. Seriously, that’s all that needs to be done—extend the Communications Act or Telecommunications Act to explicitly state that the Internet is Title I. Then the Internet really is back to the way it always worked.

But instead the FCC is hiding their plans—all 300-some pages of it—and neither the President nor any other net neutrality allies in Congress are introducing the simple one-paragraph change needed to just get Title I powers back.

They’re asking us to believe that a government agency will grant itself massive regulatory power and then not use it. I’m sure this has happened once or twice in the past, but it isn’t the safe way to bet.

This isn’t an end-of-the-world crisis here; if it takes a few more weeks or even a few more months to work out a compromise the Internet will be fine. But even if it were a crisis, it’s because the current administration has chosen to push for expanded powers behind closed doors, rather than just ask for things to be returned the way they were.

I’ve been on the Internet a long time now. Long enough to remember a whole lot of Ends of the Internets—there were so many we had a running joke back then about End of the Internet—Film at 11.3 It was a meme before the term “meme” was even widely used. I’d be more inclined to take this particular threat more seriously if the people who are screaming it acted as if they actually believed it from the start, using the normal democratic process to enact a law. It seems to me that would be a better first step than allowing a government agency wide regulatory authority in the hopes that it will restrain itself and not use its full power.

  1. Especially not now, reading Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.

  2. Also, I recently moved from California to Texas, and the difference between heavily-regulated electricity and a market in electricity has meant much lower prices.

  3. Hell, I’m old enough to remember when the news was on at 11.

  1. <- GU24 wastes energy
  2. Progressive App Store ->