Net Neutrality

In my humble opinion, next to the AK-47, the single most liberating technology of the 20th and 21st centuries has so far been the Internet. This will likely hold until someone makes a more sturdy and easily copied assault rifle, invents a disintegration ray, or we learn to teleport something a bit larger than a subatomic particle. For the moment though, the Internet reigns supreme as the most powerful technology there is for preserving freedom through the unencumbered exchange of goods, services, information and ideas.

The Internet is humanity friendly technology. It generates liberty. It democratizes freedom of speech. It allows us to communicate, cooperate, argue, work, and play with one another on a global scale. It causes us to discover each other. We see that we are often utterly asinine. At the same time we discover that we are very often brilliant, productive and creative. Needless to say the Internet has been extremely conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation as well as the creation of new business models for old media such as cinema, broadcasting, music, and publishing.

This didn’t happen simply because we connected our computers. It happened because we connected our computers to an open and free NETWORK NEUTRAL INTERNET.

In other words, it happened because there are no virtual boundaries, speed limits, stop signs, or censorship police for us to deal with. Information generally flows freely from one destination to another. Think of it as limited government of the Internet.

This creates a network that is philosophically libertarian in its nature. At the core of the Internet’s design is something called “The End-To-End Principle.” It essentially means that the network itself is indifferent, i.e. neutral. This is the fundamental idea of Net Neutrality.

Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet’s wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant “end-to-end” design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good.”—Lawrence Lessig & Robert W. McChesney

So far this has worked extremely well, and stands as a monument to what can happen when all the typical power mongers whether governments or corporations keep their hands off.

The Internet, our Internet, has remained open and free. It is a prime example of one of the fundamental tenants of libertarianism or Classical Liberalism, i.e. Spontaneous Order.

With no central governance, the Internet is a very orderly place, but not overly so.  It has to be, in order to function. Order on the Internet is maintained through the voluntary interaction of technologists, i.e. people. The operation of the network is defined through agreements and standards. Anyone is free to propose different standards, or protocols. Such standards may or may not be adopted. No one is allowed to seize control or ownership of the Internet.

The Internet regulates itself. Openness is the primary regulatory value. Net Neutrality says that any proposed change should ask, “Does this increase or decrease the freedom and openness of the Internet?”

When I speak of the Internet being open and “free” I don’t mean without cost. We pay for connectivity and bandwidth, or “Quality of Service” as well we should. Telephone companies, cable companies, and satellite companies have spent countless billions building the infrastructure that hosts the Internet and the higher our quality of service the more we pay. Some think it should be free. It should not. Insisting on free Internet service is a violation of property rights. We the people have no inherent ownership rights of their wires. We pay to access them.

I submit however that the Internet is not the wires. The edge service providers  and last mile service providers own the infrastructure. We purchase access from them. They DO NOT own the Internet though. The Internet has come to exist as an entity on its own. It may be hosted by or live on the wires of the service providers but the network itself is something wholly separate. The Internet is made up of the various computers, networks, standards, protocols, services, and most importantly INDIVIDUALS who live and work there. Yes, it is a place.

In order to keep the Internet open and free, it is up to the individuals to maintain vigilance over the power hungry. The power hungry entities are the usual suspects, i.e. governments and corporations.

Corporations seek to control traffic on the Internet because that can be EXTREMELY profitable. Governments really don’t like us talking amongst ourselves so much and they seek to control who can talk to whom and when they can talk, and what they say. Governments are fond of Internet kill switches and censorship. Governments, particularly our own I suspect, really don’t like seeing such a successful thing as the Internet exist without their say so, or their taxes, or their ability to exercise control and constraint on behalf of those who contribute lots of money to them.

Proponents of Net Neutrality seek to thwart the efforts of governments and corporations to exercise ownership like control over the Internet. Net Neutrality wants the traffic on the Internet to remain unmolested by corporations and uncensored by governments and unblocked by both.

Opponents of Net Neutrality see it as a government power grab or FCC over regulation. Opponents of Net Neutrality feel that the Internet has done well on its own since the day we agreed that it actually existed, so why do we need any FCC interference whatsoever?

What is interesting is that the decision on whether or not one supports Net Neutrality has fallen along the cliché and boring left vs. right political lines, with pro-net neutrality people being on the left and anti-net neutrality people being on the right. Unfortunately this has resulted in minds instantly being closed to what the actual issues are and what is at stake.

I consider myself a libertarian (because people understand this somewhat) but more accurately a  classical liberal. By definition this would put me right of center and I often agree with so called “conservative” ideals. I like to believe I look at every issue on its own though. Just because someone I might agree with on tax policy tells me Net Neutrality is bad doesn’t mean I don’t investigate for myself. In doing so I have come to support Net Neutrality notwithstanding the meaningless political labels that have been attached to it.

I would ask that those who believe in limited government and free speech, as I do, take a close look at Net Neutrality. Don’t close your mind because some hidebound conservative tells you it’s evil. It isn’t. If you are a leftist, don’t simply believe in it because your favorite Marxist kook says “the 99% are in favor of Net Neutrality.” Read up on it. Understand what the Internet is, how it works, why it’s important, who the players are. Don’t let them obfuscate the importance of this issue by pressing your political hot buttons. They do not apply.

Conservatives, I am speaking to you in particular here. Leftists have the luxury of accidentally being on the correct side of this issue. You don’t have that luxury. You’re going to have to use your brain. You’re going to have to ask yourself how it is that rules that do nothing other than ask that the Internet remain open and free with limited governance are government over regulation and then you’re going to have to come up with an answer that makes sense. You can’t. If you understand what Net Neutrality is and you continue to insist that it’s some kind of government power grab, you’re acting irresponsibly with respect to the Internet and you are handing the Internet over to corporations to over regulate and govern because your mind is just that closed. Don’t do it. Keep in mind, calling Net Neutrality regulation is like calling The Bill of Rights regulation.

When you support Net Neutrality, you are not supporting equality over all else. You are supporting equality of opportunity. If I put up a website, people can access my website as easily as CNN or MSNBC. Within the Internet itself, there is a free market and this is because of Net Neutrality.

Those who own the wires are not policed by a free market. Those of us who purchase access from these people have little or no choice as to whom we get service from. To claim that the market will control ISPs is wrong. The market must have competition.

Without Net Neutrality the companies that own the wires are free to form an oligarchy or what can essentially be described as an OPEC of bandwidth, in which they wield entirely too much power determining how traffic flows on the Internet. Remember the wires are not the Internet. We should pay for our access to the wires, and they should be able to charge more for greater bandwidth or better QOS, but they should not be allowed to tamper with how the Internet works.  They should not be allowed to throttle or even examine the packets we exchange, unless an appropriate court order has been supplied.

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