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November 14, 2014

From Net Neutrality to Information Control

What is all this stuff about net neutrality? An egalitarian policy would have everyone bearing the same time price on the internet. So what is so wrong with that?

Let me point out that we do not have a policy of road neutrality. For example, ambulances are given preferential treatment on our roads. Why is that a good idea? It is a good idea because ambulances have a greater demand for speed than other vehicles have. The speed of an ambulance may very well determine whether someone lives or dies. So we readily grant special access to ambulances, and to cop cars, and fire trucks. But more mundane vehicles can have special status too. For example, special commuting lanes may provide accelerated access to commuters with more than one person on board or, horror of horrors, for people who pay some money price for the privilege. Is this just a special perk for the rich? Hardly. It is for those who are late and those who are exceptionally busy (read productive). We also give special status on roads to vehicles with wide loads. Clearly, the economy functions better if we allow these vehicles to encroach on other lanes of traffic to the point of even slowing down other lanes of traffic.

What is true for roads is also true for the net. There are those who have demand (i.e., the willingness and the ability to pay) for faster speed on the net. Who are these people? They could include a wide range of people, people who need to monitor remote sites in real time and people who want to download or upload large files quickly. These people could be private individuals, businesses, and governmental entities. Why should we frustrate these demands? This is egalitarianism run amok so as to disrupt the efficiency of markets.

Why do certain federal officials want to impose net neutrality? They want control over a heretofore largely uncontrolled medium. A Net Neutrality policy would give them a foot in the door. They would have the right to require reporting on the speed of various internet transactions. Can you visualize such reporting? Who contacted whom. How long did the contact persist. What quantity of information was sent in each direction. Whew.

Once this kind of information has been provided the invidious comparisons will begin. Why was this speedier than that. Does it have anything to do with the content? Fines will emerge. Perhaps there will be federal permits for sending and receiving information. Such a permit or license will probably require fees. Perhaps more importantly, these permits will be subject to cancellation. Control will be complete.

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