Reading Drudge and the Wall Street Journal this morning had me concerned that Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman, was going to smash my modem into tiny pieces with a +2 mace in the name of flexing regulatory muscle. Hardly. It’s true that the FCC will vote tomorrow whether or not to implement some sort of Net Neutrality regime, but considering that it’s already stated what it means to accomplish with the vote, I don’t understand why folks are so upset. But, I’m willing to listen.
“The FCC’s Threat To Internet Freedom,” written by an FCC commissioner, Robert M. McDowell, appears in today’s Wall Street Journal, but it doesn’t say anything new. The premise seems to be a defense of the argument “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The story goes that the Internet has evolved splendidly so far, and it’s done so more or less independently of government intervention. All sorts of new and exciting services have popped up, from Facebook to Netflix to World of Warcraft to Rdio to… take your pick. Why would we want to endanger the Internet, and all of that innovation, by getting the government involved?
It’s a fine enough argument, but only if you ignore a few things (which the op-ed does, of course). Who can forget, only a few years ago, when Comcast decided to throttle its users’ traffic without informing them? That sure was nice of them: interfering with your data without telling you how or why. The FCC’s new regulations would require ISPs to spell out the hows and whys traffic shaping. That alone is a win for consumers.
(Keep in mind that I don’t have a problem if an ISP wants to charge more for more bandwidth. Why you should pay the same $50 per month when you’re streaming gigabytes of video data when your neighbor only uses his $50 connection to shop online or post funny photos to his Facebook? I also recognize that bandwidth isn’t water, and there’s no reason why it should be treated as a scarce resource, but I’ll meet the ISPs halfway here. There’s nothing wrong with a little give-and-take.)
There was also the recent Comcast-Netflix scare that illustrated the danger of a world without Net Neutrality (even if it amounted to very little in the end.) “Want to use Service A on our network? Sure, you can, but it’ll cost you. Meanwhile, can we interest you in Service B instead? It’s free because they’re giving us giant sacks of money in exchange for preferred access to our subscribers.”
That said, I can understand people’s apprehension with getting the government involved here. The Internet, by and large, has evolved splendidly without government intervention (putting aside things like the DMCA and the Can Spam act, which amount to government interference but not the “objectionable” kind of interference, I guess—interference is only interference when it’s inconvenient), so why would we want to change that now?
In any event, the scare tactics used by those who are (for whatever reason) against Net Neutrality don’t really do their cause any favors. If you want to explain why you think Net Neutrality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that’s fine. In fact, it’s encouraged: there’s nothing wrong with people with differing viewpoints communicating to each other. But let’s actually have a debate, and not reduce ourselves to silly puns like “Julius Seizure.” What purpose does that serve? I’m just not sure we want to debate major policy shifts via childish name-calling.