It’s time we talked about “net neutrality,” but I’ll keep it short. You’re welcome.
Well, also I’m watching Evil Dead 2 with the lights off and don’t want too many distractions.
The internet was, in a way, built around neutrality, as conceived by DARPA all those years ago. DARPANET was supposed to be a way to maintain national communications, no matter what. And in the darkest days of the Cold War, “no matter what” meant the worst of the worst.
Entire cities could get nuked out of existence, but the bits would still flow from point A to point C. Point B might be black-green glass where Cleveland used to be, but DARPANET would find a way around. “Neutrality” was built in; a feature, not a bug.
To the Internet, bits are bits. Its job is to get the bits from where they are to where they’re wanted. The idea of some third party — your ISP, for example — getting a chance to say, “No, these bits have to wait,” or, “these bits get charged more money than those bits,” goes against the grain.
And as Americans, that system suits our particular (not to say peculiar) brand of egalitarianism. By and large, it’s American that some people get rich and some people don’t. It’s equally American that nobody, no matter how rich or poor, gets to cut in line at the supermarket checkout.
And right or wrong, I always thought that bits on the internet moved like customers in the checkout line. First come, first serve — although we all get to roll our eyes and fidget at the old lady taking seventeen forevers to write a check instead of swiping a card like the rest of us.
Now the ISPs want to charge more for some bits than others, or cut off bits coming from Point B, or whatever stupid-ass thing it is they want to do — just to squeeze more money out of its customers, while changing entirely everything we’ve become accustomed to on the internets for the last five, ten, fifteen or more years.
Well, “screw them,” is my take.
It’s their fiber optic line. It’s their copper wire. Don’t they have the right to charge all the traffic will bear?
Isn’t the internet, at its heart, a set of national — now, international — standards, for getting bits to flow freely? And quickly? And where rich and poor alike all stand in the same queue?
The libertarian in me says the First But must rule the day. You want to ride the train, you pay the fare.
My conservative side says that the internet we have now functions best, and that the Law of Unintended Consequences would lead to disaster.
This time, the conservative side wins — sort of.
The standards we have in place work for everyone, even the ISPs. And while you can’t blame them for trying to maximize their profits, there’s one little problem. That problem has a name. And that name is: Congress.
I just don’t trust Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to get net neutrality right. This isn’t a partisan thing, either — back in 2005, I wouldn’t have trusted the then-Republican leadership to do it right, either. With our current Inside the Beltway crowd, no matter which side is in charge, I’d expect any net-neutrality bill to end up as some sort of rent-seeking agreement designed to help someone, anyone, other than us consumers.
The problem with the status quo is, it’s likely to get worse. But if this Congress steps in, then things are almost certain to get worse.