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Wrong on Net neutrality

Dylan Tweney has published a piece in Wired, where he’s an editor, warning that the FCC’s proposed Net neutrality rule may spell the end of the “unlimited Internet.”

I think he’s quite wrong. And whoever wrote the headline, really botched it. Dylan’s argument is that bandwidth isn’t unlimited, so the access providers need to manage traffic. If the premise of the piece is that bandwidth isn’t unlimited, then there isn’t any “unlimited Internet” to end. And if he means that the era of getting as much Internet as you can eat is over, well, it never existed. I pay my access provider for an always-on connection with a cap on how many bits per second that is far lower than what I could actually eat if allowed.

And access providers can manage traffic without doing so on the basis of the content of the bits. In fact, they already do manage traffic by selling different tiers of service; Net neutrality has no problem with that.

The comments on the piece get at the problems with it. (And, btw, despite what some of the commenters allege, I’ve known Dylan for years and he’s personally honest and very smart. We just disagree.)

(Pardon my plugging again my piece at Npr.org. My editor insists.)

5 Responses to “Wrong on Net neutrality”

  1. David, thanks for noticing this piece. I could have done a better job in that piece distinguishing between the wired internet (where there is lots of bandwidth but not much competition) and wireless (where there is a fair amount of competition, but bandwidth is extremely limited). I think that the consequences of neutrality regulation will be sharper in the latter case, and in any event the consequences are worth thinking about.

    I’m in favor of net neutrality. I just question whether it’s ideally enforced by regulation or by competition. I’d prefer competition.

  2. As I’ve been reading various comments, I agree with some of them where they state they have some mixed feelings about this idea being both good and maybe not so good. As long as it does not interrupt too much of the ISPs. Of course, we may not know that until the basic “trial and error” take place.

  3. Dylan, I’d prefer enlightened regulation. Competition belongs on the football field on a Saturday afternoon. In the fall. For eight or ten weeks a year. The bizarre American fetish for competitive enterprise is founded in an 18th century delusion that’s almost become a religion.

    (What’s the sound of one invisible hand grasping?) Regardless of one’s position on competition, predatory and/or monopolistic practices, and so forth, it’s hard to say something intelligent about network neutrality without recognizing the balance of excesses on both sides of the issue. It’s also hard to say anything intelligent about bandwidth allocation in the public sphere without saying something about network neutrality.

    Public service regulation in the US has been eroded and perverted since the Death Valley Days dude somehow found himself in the saddle of the American bronco back in in 1981. (yeehaw) The reincarnation of that Reaganesque madness in the Bush administration further emasculated state Public Utility Commissions, the FCC and other regulatory agencies.

    The myth of “the invisible hand” is bolstered by the myth of scarcity (fostering the need to allocate limited resources through honorable Etonian competitive rules of cricket, what?) Is wireless bandwidth “extremely limited?” That’s perhaps worth a discussion by regulators informed by engineers and bounded by statute. Of course I could be wrong, but how likely is that?

  4. David, what you’re describing — perhaps somewhat wistfully — is a utility model. And in a way, I think that would make sense, *if* we had internet service providers that were, in fact, public utilities. A municipally-owned ISP utility, for instance, would have to be governed by net neutrality regulations, among other things, and I think it’d be entirely appropriate there.

    I’m more sympathetic to the argument that many ISPs are de facto utilities now, after reading many of the responses to my article. There appears to be a lot less competition for wireline internet service in most areas than I thought. In such cases — and especially since many of those monopolies were won with the help of government subsidies or regulations — I think the government does have a responsibility to ensure that they’re managed fairly.

    Either that, or we need to find a way to encourage alternatives. Maybe the internet service world needs a public option?

  5. Isn’t it true that applications will always be developed to gobble up all the bandwidth that’s available to a large number of users, just because they can? So limitations are relative to what’s possible.


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