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Main | Rushing to Judgement on the Napolitano Charges »
Saturday
Dec232017

The Net Neutrality Myth Finally Debunked & Rejected

The FCC’s Christmas Gift to Internet Users

The wireless future you were hoping for would not be possible under Title II regulation.

Net neutrality long ago became the expectation of broadband customers. It was an expectation that internet service providers routinely met during the two decades before the Obama rules were enacted. It’s an expectation they will continue to meet after the Obama rules have been withdrawn.

Net neutrality means unfiltered, unhindered access to what the web offers. Net neutrality is the business that broadband suppliers are in.

What is being repealed is a decision to recategorize broadband from a Title I to a Title II service under the 1934 Communications Act. This decision had little to do with net neutrality but meant that lobbyists and petitioners and courts would be able to pressure Washington steadily in the direction of regulating the internet the way it did the railroads in the early 1900s.

Title II is what many groups militating in the name of net neutrality really wanted. They conflated net neutrality with Title II regulation because they thought it politically expedient to do so.

Does this mean you should run screaming to the nearest cliff and throw yourself off because now the internet will be taken over by “fast lanes”?

I, for one, will pass. The whole idea of fast lanes reflects a faulty, obsolete metaphor for how the internet works. The internet is more like a giant computer providing a diverse array of services to a billion-plus users simultaneously.

It delivers you a webpage, me a video. In the future, it will help your driverless car navigate traffic, a doctor examine and treat an injury remotely. It will make sure your refrigerator is full of beer.

The businesses supplying each of these services care only that their own customers are happy. Their customers care only that their own service is satisfactory. They won’t care or even notice that the computer is constantly optimizing its performance so its diverse users are all kept simultaneously happy.

The whole “fast lane” nonsense is even more nonsensical when we realize how much it’s the efforts of so-called edge providers that determine service quality. If a static webpage doesn’t load as quickly as you might wish, today it’s because of slow servers among the dozens that nowadays contribute pieces of a webpage. Not to blame usually is the last-mile carrier, who’s moving these elements to you as fast as content suppliers make them available.

Or take Netflix: It spends millions to place servers containing its shows inside the systems of last-mile providers to improve delivery and reduce transport costs.

Laws against fraud and anticompetitive behavior apply to broadband suppliers as they do to other companies in the economy. If a supermarket sells you a can of dirt labeled “peas,” it would not long stay in business. But, wait, aren’t we in a uniquely bad position because so many of us have only one or two choices for broadband at home?

All businesses would like to charge an infinitely high price for infinitely chintzy service, but not even Comcast can get away with this, even when competition is inadequate, because customers have voices and politicians and regulators listen to those voices. And competition can only improve matters.

Ironically, what consistently outrages the net-neut freaks is the wireless sector, where competition is fierce, and where rivals dangle offers of uncapped streaming from certain video services, and even free Netflix or Sling TV. This offends sacred principle, never mind that it increasingly turns wireless into a plausible substitute for the local fixed-line monopolist.

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile—all have made announcements, and put money behind them, promising that 5G wireless will render the local cable oligopoly a thing of the past. Repealing Title II not only makes such investment attractive. It will enable wireless to support a whole slew of advanced services while keeping customers maximally happy.

Disney last week announced it would spend $52.4 billion to acquire certain Fox assets to replicate Netflix’s business model. Notice that Netflix’s business model is premised entirely on the existence of ubiquitous, affordable, unhindered broadband.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is the Santa, not the Grinch, of this holiday season. Repeal of Title II is what will make the future internet possible. It’s just too bad those net-neutrality obsessives piling up lifelessly at the bottom of the nearest cliff won’t be around to enjoy it. 

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