Meet Alice and Bob. Bob is a student at Duke University. Alice is a patient at Duke University Hospital. Both need to download 400 gigabytes of data every month. Alice is about to have open-heart surgery (or brain surgery, or whatever), and her nurses and doctors need to download training videos, Alice’s medical history and X-rays and cat-scans from a datacenter in Texas. Bob is a video producer and needs to download 400 gigabytes of raw video from a studio’s server in Hollywood, California. Bob got a job with Hustler Magazine by flagging down Larry Flynt when he came to UNC back in February, and he needs to edit some of Hustler’s latest footage into a video for distribution to special Hustler customers.
Net neutrality is the principle that local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Time Warner Cable must treat Bob’s illicit video with just as much urgency as Alice’s life-saving medical data. Net neutrality thus bans the ‘deep-packet inspection’ that would allow Time Warner Cable to throttle users who hog their entire neighborhood’s bandwidth capacity by spending all day sitting inside downloading torrents, videos and games. In a just society, these heavy users would pay more for their Internet connection, because they use more data. But under so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules, people who use the Internet for low-bandwidth activities like Web surfing and email will be forced to bear the cost of others’ abnormal and sometimes excessive Web content consumption.
Internet for the Rich
Net neutrality also seeks to ban tiered pricing plans. In an ironic twist, leftists will end up disenfranchising poorer Internet users so that rich Bay Area residents don’t have to deal with the entirely illusory discomfort of seeing usage-based charges on their monthly phone bills instead of fixed charges. Advocates for so-called ‘net neutrality’ liked wireless access the way it was earlier this decade: expensive monthly plans with unlimited data usage. They want to use federal fiat to crush AT&T’s usage-based pricing for the iPhone – thanks to competition, there’s now a cheap $15/month plan for 200 megabytes of data transfer – and return to fixed monthly fees.
Why? Well, the ‘net wasn’t around when Marx was pining for revolution, and the Left now lacks such thinkers (not that Marx ever thought too hard about the consequences of his ideas), so nobody has produced a well-thought-out principle to motivate the Left’s desire for fixed-cost plans. I’ve come to conclude that it’s because American liberals with Bay Area attitudes just don’t like seeing usage-based charges on their monthly phone bills. If ‘net neutrality’ had been in place before the iPhone came out to the extent that left-wing advocacy groups wanted, we may have had the phone, but the data plans would still only be accessible to the well-to-do.
And then there’s the corporate lapdog part. Democrats are big corporate lapdogs – did anyone notice the ethanol subsidies in the tax-deal bill? – but what you didn’t already know is that Democrats want to boost the profits of Internet backbone providers. Profits come from somewhere, of course, and the boost may come from Internet users’ wallets. Companies like Level 3 and Cogent transfer Alice’s medical data and Bob’s illicit video from the ISPs in Hollywood and Texas to the ISP in Durham. They bridge the gap between these local providers by making data packets zoom all the way across the country. But these days, it seems like everyone is downloading gigabytes of video, and local networks are getting stressed. So Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T and the like (theoretically) want to charge Level 3 and Cogent, et al, fees for content delivery, so that the former companies (local ISPs) can upgrade their networks to handle the huge increase in traffic without slowing down service. ‘Net neutrality’ rules would make these fees illegal. Because the FCC is effectively moving against infrastructure upgrades, users would simply get slower service and would end up paying for upgrades directly via increased charges on their monthly Internet bills – something that so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules were designed to prevent!
There’s no market failure, but we need more capitalism in the telecom market
The Internet is fine and doesn’t need bureaucrats like Julius “Caeser” Genachowski to come in with their interest-group funded ideas to increase corporate profits of Internet backbone providers at the expense of local telecom infrastructure and consumers. If you care about a continually improving Internet and speedier, more vibrant telecom infrastructure, tell your Members of Congress: We don’t want the slower, more expensive Internet service that ‘net neutrality’ will lead to, and we certainly don’t want the FCC circumventing the democratic process by ignoring Congress and the courts. Then tell them to push for a federal law that prohibits state and local governments from granting any special monopoly privileges to local telecom companies in all but the most extreme geographical circumstances. We’d all have fiber in months or quarters, not years, and the added competitive pressure would keep rates low and ensure that access to the Internet stays open and free of restrictions.
Alice and Bob are fictional characters and bear no intentional relation to actual video-editing Duke students or hospital patients.