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Thursday, February 26, 2015

There is Nothing Neutral in Title II Regulation of the Internet

It has been a long time since I posted something to my blog. But Title II regulation of the Internet in the guise of implementing Net Neutrality is such as big issue I just had to write something.

A Little Background

I started working with FidoNet back in about 1979 in high school and was enamored with CompuServe throughout college. I joined the Well and used my Hayes 1200 baud modem to connect to others to discuss technology, social issues and the like. But I knew that there was going to be a commercial aspect to this that extended beyond just being a substitute for telephone party lines. 
In about 1988 I started a TCP/IP based BBS system in Oakland I called TransTech. Over time I hooked up to NSFNET. I was given a class C network (which I would later have to give back). And finally I found my calling when I built one of the first wireless ISPs in the Bay Area providing coverage off the top of the 1200 Broadway building in Oakland to the newly decommissioned Alameda Naval Air Station.

I never once had to get a license, ask permission, adhere to standards of decency, or worry about what my customers were using their connectivity for. I provided a pipe through which data flowed. I paid upstream providers for larger pipes, and I never had time to worry about metering content. I knew that if I did meter content, there were lots of competitors ready to take my place. Pricing was set by the market. Service was set by the market. Customers chose the best service for the best price.

Fast forward to present. Pretty much the model of operation for the Internet remains the same. 
However, fear of something that never even has been a real issue prompted cries for government intervention in order to enforce Net Neutrality. But people forget that we live in a Laissez-faire economic system in which transactions between private parties are relatively free from government interference such as these massive Title II regulations. The market will punish those that filter traffic through competition. 

Wireless and over the top/virtual ISPs exist as a locally owned bypass around monopolistic cable and telco companies. This keeps them in check. But not for much longer. We have now empowered the government to regulate from top to bottom a utility which was functioning perfectly well with no regulation. Beware unintended consequences.

Net neutrality and Title II FCC Internet regulation are not the same.

Net neutrality is the concept of treating all packets equally, regardless of the source or the content. But from a practical perspective this is not realistic. There is limited bandwidth on networks. Traffic needs to be managed, prioritized in order for it to all get through. Every network manager will tell you that they apply QoS (quality of service) prioritization on their network. You have to, unless you have limitless capacity. Network operators should be free to define these rules. And customers should be free to choose which networks they want to use based on the quality of service they receive. Networks will evolve based on the type of QoS prioritization they apply. Customers will have choice in a free market.

Net neutrality can and is achieved through competition. A free and open market is what is needed. Maybe there could be some work on local right of ways in order to spur competition. But Title II is like putting out a match with a fire hose.

Title II is an antiquated set of government restrictions designed for the bygone telephone monopoly of 1937. Title II sets up regulatory bureaucracies overseeing a utility that wants to be free, not controlled. 
 
The first casualties of this regulation will be the local ISPs who provide the very competition to the large monopolies who the advocates of Title II were trying to reign in. So unintended consequence #1 is elimination of competition and choice.

The second unintended consequence will be taxation. Now that the government has control of the Internet it will want to wring out of it every last penny it can. Expect fees, licenses, use taxes, excise taxes, and the like to start appearing on your ISP bill shortly. And they will grow.

The third unintended consequence will be increases in the barriers to entry for using the Internet as a vehicle for free expression. With no license fees, no bureaucracy, no regulation, today anyone can set up a blog, a web site, or chat at a cost approaching zero. But the government will make it increasingly harder for people to do this.

The fourth unintended consequence will be censorship. The fairness doctrine. The seven deadly words. Hate speech, and other arbitrary rules will be applied to curtail the use of the "public" (read government regulated) Internet. 

Beyond this, I am sure their will be many other unintended consequences. Curtailment of innovation. Decline in infrastructure investment. Who knows.

Pirate Internet

There is one thing everyone can start planning to do. Buy an outdoor wireless router. Load it up with some mesh software like Freifunk Wireless, and create a local community network which is apart from the government run Internet. Using currently unlicensed radio frequencies, you can bypass the regulation which is coming. You can maintain your freedom. And you can create competition for the new Ma Bell or whatever we will call the super monopolies which this is sure to produce.

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