Nothing On The Net Is Neutral

We keep getting it wrong when it comes to net neutrality. But the FCC’s recent vote will force a market test that just might prove what’s truly right.

Chairman Pai cannot be said to lack a sense of humor. Or confidence.

If Bitcoin is the number one topic in tech and the economy this week, then net neutrality is running a very close second. The FCC’s vote this week to repeal Obama-era neutrality regulations brought a wave of protest and punditry through the web, and close readers will know that my, and NewCo Shift’s point of view on the debate aligns more with Walt Mossberg, and less with the Chairman. But I believe in rational discourse and robust debate, and to that end, I want to take a few moments to lay out the Republican point of view.

Here’s Pai’s statement outlining his defense of the repeal. In short, Pai argues that we need to move back to the “light touch” approach that the government adopted for most of the Internet’s short life. Absent government oversight, he argues, the Web developed into a fantastic organism that has benefitted all. Competition drove innovation, and that framework ought to be preserved. The doomsayers on the left will eventually be proven wrong — the market will win. Here’s a similar argument, via a NYT OpEd.

What strikes me as interesting about all this is now that net neutrality is no longer government policy, we’re going to get a true test of our much-vaunted free market. Will competition truly blossom? Will, for example, new ISPs spring up that offer “net neutrality as a service” — in opposition to the Comcasts and Verizons of the world, who likely will offer tiered bundles of services favoring their business partners? I have to admit, I find such a scenario unlikely, but to me, the silver lining is that we get to find out. And in the end, perhaps that is the only way that we can truly know whether preserving neutrality is a public good worthy of enshrinement in federal law.

Of course, net neutrality today is utterly conflated with the fact that Google and Facebook have become the two most powerful companies on the Web, and have their own agendas to look after. It’s interesting how muted their support was for neutrality this time around. As this Washington Monthly column points out, antitrust (which I wrote about here) is now a “central plank” in the Democrats’ agenda moving forward. The next few years are going to be nothing but fascinating, that much is certain. We’ll be watching, closely.

More key stories from around the web:

Mike Bloomberg should have run. Enough said. MQ: “Corporations are sitting on a record amount of cash reserves: nearly $2.3 trillion. That figure has been climbing steadily since the recession ended in 2009, and it’s now double what it was in 2001. The reason CEOs aren’t investing more of their liquid assets has little to do with the tax rate.”

Wow. Just…wow. We are callous to what our economy is doing to humans. MQ: To think of The Ghosted is to think of injustice, a cataloging of fist-fights, tuberculosis, detention centers, scabies, crabs, lice, roaches, hot plates, Section 8 housing, laborers hiding under blankets in the backs of trucks, children lying stiff against the tops of trains, assembly lines in windowless heat-filled rooms — a type of economic violence many consumers try to close their minds to. We do not want to think of them because of what it says about us.”

This has set off a frenzy in the Valley. It’s very, very complicated and I think Hunter Walk has some enlightening things to say about the same topic:

I write about these topics pretty frequently, and feel compelled to write about it now, but honestly, there’s only so much time in the day and today’s focus is/was net neutrality. But stay tuned, so much more to say on this.

And while we’re on the topic of Valley elites coming to grips with their own power….I’ll also be writing about this in the days to come. Not in “the years to come,” which is apparently the preferred timeline at FB HQ. MQ: “We don’t have all the answers, but given the prominent role social media now plays in many people’s lives, we want to help elevate the conversation. In the years ahead we’ll be doing more to dig into these questions, share our findings and improve our products. At the end of the day, we’re committed to bringing people together and supporting well-being through meaningful interactions on Facebook.”

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