Don’t tread on my Internet

Geoffrey Manne —  9 April 2015

reason-mag-dont-tread-on-my-internetBen Sperry and I have a long piece on net neutrality in the latest issue of Reason Magazine entitled, “How to Break the Internet.” It’s part of a special collection of articles and videos dedicated to the proposition “Don’t Tread on My Internet!”

Reason has put together a great bunch of material, and packaged it in a special retro-designed page that will make you think it’s the 1990s all over again (complete with flaming graphics and dancing Internet babies).

Here’s a taste of our article:

“Net neutrality” sounds like a good idea. It isn’t.

As political slogans go, the phrase net neutrality has been enormously effective, riling up the chattering classes and forcing a sea change in the government’s decades-old hands-off approach to regulating the Internet. But as an organizing principle for the Internet, the concept is dangerously misguided. That is especially true of the particular form of net neutrality regulation proposed in February by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Net neutrality backers traffic in fear. Pushing a suite of suggested interventions, they warn of rapacious cable operators who seek to control online media and other content by “picking winners and losers” on the Internet. They proclaim that regulation is the only way to stave off “fast lanes” that would render your favorite website “invisible” unless it’s one of the corporate-favored. They declare that it will shelter startups, guarantee free expression, and preserve the great, egalitarian “openness” of the Internet.

No decent person, in other words, could be against net neutrality.

In truth, this latest campaign to regulate the Internet is an apt illustration of F.A. Hayek’s famous observation that “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” Egged on by a bootleggers-and-Baptists coalition of rent-seeking industry groups and corporation-hating progressives (and bolstered by a highly unusual proclamation from the White House), Chairman Wheeler and his staff are attempting to design something they know very little about-not just the sprawling Internet of today, but also the unknowable Internet of tomorrow.

And the rest of the contents of the site are great, as well. Among other things, there’s:

  • “Why are Edward Snowden’s supporters so eager to give the government more control over the Internet?” Matt Welch’s  take on the contradictions in the thinking of net neutrality’s biggest advocates.
  • “The Feds want a back door into your computer. Again.” Declan McCullagh on the eternal return of government attempts to pre-hack your technology.
  • “Uncle Sam wants your Fitbit.” Adam Thierer on the coming clampdown on data coursing through the Internet of Things.
  • Mike Godwin on how net neutrality can hurt developing countries most of all.
  • “How states are planning to grab tax dollars for online sales,” by Veronique de Rugy
  • FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai on why net neutrality is “a solution that won’t work to a problem that simply doesn’t exist.”
  • “8 great libertarian apps that make your world a little freer and a whole lot easier to navigate.”

There’s all that, plus enough flaming images and dancing babies to make your eyes bleed. Highly recommended!

Geoffrey Manne

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4 responses to Don’t tread on my Internet

  1. 

    Net Neutrality, while a great principle that keeps the spirit of the net alive, is not as simple as it seems. Great article in that magazine this month!

  2. 

    Why is it I’ve finished this piece with the mental image of FCC chairman seated on a throne by the sea shore a la Canute?

  3. 

    I have a few observations on your article regarding misstatements, omissions, and factual differences: (1) FCC open Internet rules have no mandate that the Internet remain as it is, (2) there is no rule against engineering prioritization but rather the concern is prioritization solely based on the economic self interest of the broadband provider, (3) the article ignores the economic incentives broadband providers face when they both own the underlying network and offer applications in competition with unaffiliated applications that are dependent on the network, (4) reasons for the prediction that the legal authority for the open Internet rules will be struck down are not given, (5) in its 2014 decision the DC Circuit found the rules to be reasonable and grounded in empirical evidence, (6) the assertion that the broadband access market is competitive ignores two FCC concerns; the terminating monopoly position of broadband providers and the unresponsiveness of end users to restrictive practices, and (7) contrary to the argument that paid prioritization is likely to be beneficial for startups the overwhelming percentage of startups who offered comments in the record support FCC open Internet rules.