August 14, 2010

An Opposition to Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality has been in the news lately. Basically, net neutrality supporters want the FCC to make it illegal for internet providers to privilege certain types of Internet traffic over other types. Basically, Google can't pay Comcast to make sure that YouTube videos come through in higher quality than other videos on the web.

On paper, this sounds great. The web, as net neutrality opponents are wont to say, was built on equality, and we shouldn't introduce inequalities. I actually agree that a neutral web is, all things being equal, better.

However, there are some problems with enforcing this equality. I'm going to gloss over the issue that I find most salient, because I also think it is the most obvious. Namely, the question of whether or not it is the government's place to regulate how ISPs operate. They own the networks that the Internet runs on - they paid to lay the fiber, and I think that they have an inherent right to operate it how they choose.

That issue aside, I think that the potentially bigger issue is less obvious. Government regulation so often fails because it focuses on improving the present. Currently, there are not many companies that own much of the Internet infrastructure, and it makes good sense to ensure that they don't do things which are bad for the Internet ecosystem - an ecosystem which has become more and more important to all aspects of our society. Regulation which stops them from ruining the Internet is regulation which seems to help everyone.

The only people that it doesn't help are our future selves. By enforcing net neutrality, we stop Internet providers from doing innovative things, and thereby make laying more Internet cables less lucrative. If Google was willing to pay billions of dollars to prioritize their traffic, you can be sure that ISPs would be laying cable all over the country to make sure that they were able to meet that contract. And that cable would help everyone - not just Google. Sure, maybe Google would get the lion's share of benefit, but would be "trickle-down bandwidth" for everyone.

By letting people decide with their wallets what their real priorities are, you allow companies to do innovative things, and improve the experience for everyone. Technology is magically improving our lives all the time. If we regulate to ensure the status quo, then we will get the status quo. We will miss out on the future that could have been, and the future is (almost) always better.