Lately, yet another imbroglio has been brewing over the issue of “Net Neutrality”... or whether some of the big telecom and content companies should be allowed to lay fresh “pipes” for a new tier of access to the Internet. A tier with prodigiously expanded speed and service, but also one that costs a tariff or charge to enter and/or use.
Alas, Net Neutrality is yet another case of a serious matter of public policy degenerating and devolving into a screaming-fest that is rife with outrageous oversimplification.
One side in this controversy perceives today’s Internet as a bona fide miracle, one that used a socialist mechanism -- federal research and infrastructure subsidies -- to create something that thereupon fostered a vibrant environment, highly conducive to free enterprise. And at one level, at least, what could be more obvious?
In fact, I cannot think of a better example, even including the Interstate Highway System and Public Universities. Indeed, never before have so many millions been so empowered to engage in autonomous and knowledgeable commerce and/or social action, often cogently buying and selling, cooperating and competing, that surely would have both boggled and pleased Adam Smith. No matter that the midwife was The State.
This spectacular success prompts some to say “the present approach (universal almost-free access) works extremely well; so why change it in favor of a system that seems to favor elites over the little guy?”
The other side talks about choked flows and a “commons” that is rapidly being overgrazed by millions who will vastly expand use-rates forever, so long as it is free. They point to the fact that large entities legitimately need very fat pipes in order to carry large volumes of rapid data. If those companies and agencies are willing to pay for the pipes, should they not get what they need?
Couching the debate in terms of stupid/smart... and even good/evil... each side fears that the other will kill the golden goose. One side rightfully fears woolly-headed socialist "levelling" will impoverish a good thing, letting an investment-starved Internet slowly grind down to the shabby egalitarianism of Cuba. The other side rightfully fears that - once the big boys get their fat pipes, they will see to it that the Old Internet languishes and becomes useless, forcing us to pay through the nose to use their new pipes, effectively ending the frontier days of an Open Range... I mean, Open Net. (Yes, we have seen this before! Where is Billy the Kid?)
In fact, this is yet another example of an oversimplified dichotomy in which both sides are right in certain ways... and persistently unable to see the other side’s point.
For the record; if I must choose between these insipid sides I will back the miracle of the Internet as-it-is. Because recent history (and the Wild West) shows that there is absolutely no limit to the greed-driven venality of conspiratorial golf buddies who CLAIM to revere Adam Smith, but who, in fact, typify everything that Smith preached against! A new clade of feudal lords who connive in secrecy -- exactly as the king’s cronies did in Smith’s day -- to fix deals, arrange closed deals, avoid competition or accountability and ruin the effectiveness of the very markets they hypocritically pay lip service-to.
At every level, we are seeing exactly this kind of self-serving anti-enterprise aristocratism, calling itself “capitalism”... while “liberals” -- completely ignorant of the origins of that word -- neglect to raise Adam Smith as an archetype, a symbol, a powerful weapon against the New Oligarchy. A pity.
But, in fact, I choose NOT TO CHOOSE between these oversimplified sides. Because they are based upon the logic of the zero-sum game. ANd I believe that modernism can only thrive if we think positive-sum.
Why not let corporations build their second tier with a TIME LIMIT on their right to charge tariffs? Each new line of fiber or clutch of super-servers could initiate a sliding scale, similar to depreciation, after which they become part of an ever-growing commons?
This is the sort of thing that should have been done, 20 years ago, in CABLE so-called deregulation. The so-called “reform” of that time did nothing to foster competition. Rather, it provided each cable company with safe zones of monopoly! Suppose that the bill had included this simple provision, though:
“Starting now, each company is allowed to “invade” its neighbors’ territory (by laying new cable or by sharing existing lines) by half a mile per year. Five years after this bill has been passed, the companies will be REQUIRED to invade each others’ territory by half a mile per year.”
Yes, it would have cost them money. YEs, they would have been forced to cut prices everywhere their territories overlapped. And the problem is....?
Two sentences. Just two.
(Recall how I solved gerrymandering in just ONE? It might take FIVE to establish the office of Inspector General of the United States... and end the era of outrageous federal corruption forever.)