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It still amazes me that many right-wingers have been persuaded to oppose net neutrality (i.e., oppose a free and open Internet) and align themselves with telecom censorship and customer surveillance. The pro-freedom position is to enforce net neutrality -- a negative rule that says, simply, that Americans, not their cable, telecom, and wireless companies, get to decide what they do on the Internet. Why, then, would a conservative oppose a free and open Internet in America? I can only surmise that it's the product of a reflexive defense of familiar big corporate interests -- even at the expense of newer American innovators.

These robots capture some of the absurdity of the right-wing's incoherence and confusion.
Naunihal Singh's profile photoBobbie Johnson's profile photoTimothy Lee's profile photoJeremy Dahl's profile photo
Status Quot Politics, 14+ Trillion National Deficit
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Knowing government is a dying monoply, priceless

Not everyone likes people, rights or freedom... For everyone else, there's Ron Paul
Net neutrality should be a no brainer. Unfortunately when there is money to be made freedom pays the price.
It's because we have been trained to see everything as a binary. You're left or you're right. You're pro-choice or you're anti-abortion. It makes decision-making easier, but we all know the world's really a much more complicated place than that.

Net neutrality is the latest example of the problem in seeing a spectrum of western capitalism that has free markets at one end and regulation at the other.

But the problem with that is that sometimes the reason you can't see the invisible hand is because it's just not there.
The real issue is that people do not have a real understanding of human rights or universally preferable human morality.

But hey, one step at a time
If you ever have the chance, watch CSPAN's coverage of any hearing related to the internet. Its scary that people so out of touch are in charge of creating these laws.
Wow. It's amazing to me that you can't conceive that someone else can have a well-thought-out, legitimate viewpoint different than yours, so that if they do, they must be reflexive robots. That is incredibly disrespectful.

I can understand why liberals why liberals feel net neutrality would be good for the open internet, and I respect that point of view even if I think it's wrong. If you want to take the trouble to understand our argument rather than simply question our intelligence, I recommend this paper:

Also, here is a thought experiment that might get you to understand one reason why free market advocates oppose net neutrality: How about search neutrality? I mean, Google favors its content in search results. This hurts innovators who might otherwise be at the top of search results. Sure, I can switch to a different search provider, but my choices are limited. It's basically a duopoly and there's no sign of new entrants. Why not search neutrality?
I believe it is a paid for position. Last mile teleco monopoly/duopolies have a lot of experience in this area.
Jerry: actually Google takes great care in not favoring its own products in search. They do not weight results.
Jerry, it's been mystifying to me. For example, I find myself in rabid agreement with just about everything Adam Thierer has ever written (likewise, I loved your piece on cybersecurity yesterday), except for his defense of carriers' rights to engage in censorship, blocking, and customer surveillance. It's simply not a "well-thought-out" position. Here's a thought experiment for you: if the telcos were state-owned, a libertarian would vehemently oppose telco control over bits. When, as now, they are privately owned, Americans are still dependent upon them for their communications with other Americans. Even if the market were competitive (which it is not), and switching costs were zero (which they are not), there would still be a compelling case to say to the commodity common carriers of communications: "you may not discriminate among the legal activities that your customers choose to engage in." There is no need for price regulation, just a simple "do not censor, surveil, or otherwise direct or suppress your customers' online activities." (As for "search neutrality", it's a red herring, because search is not common carriage like a telephone line, a privately owned highway, a bus line, etc. -- a search result is the substantive communication itself, an expression of the search engine's opinion about relevance. There's no First Amendment excuse for government control over a speaker's opinion, even when it's a search engine. When I send bits over my cable modem, that's not my cable company's speech. It's mine. That's the difference between common carriage and substantive speech. And I should be free from censorship or discrimination, regardless of whether it's by government or telco.)
laws are opinions back by guns, the technological revolution has excelled where free peaceful people have been allowed to voluntary contract.

aggression may work, but it always has blowback

Thanks for engaging, Andrew. Let's not debate NN (or much less search neutrality, which is laughable), let's focus on whether it's possible to intelligently oppose net neutrality. I guess I'm naive, but I am genuinely gobsmacked that really smart people can't conceive of someone having an opposite point of view but for idiocy or corruption.

If I read what you're saying correctly, if you don't agree with someone, if you're not persuaded by someone's position, then it's not a "well-thought-out" position and they are being a reflexive robot (or worse as James Love would have it, someone who knows that what they are saying is wrong and harmful, but say it anyway for pay). The link I posted is to a great paper by Tim Lee making the case against NN regulations. Tell me it's not an intelligent and well reasoned argument and that Tim is a reflexive robot.
Jerry, I hope you don't mind if I join this conversation as well.

I am very enticed by your comment, "whether it's possible to intelligently oppose net neutrality"

do you mean is it possible to format a strong defense, is it feasible... or?
+Andrew McLaughlin Because they feel that property rights are good, and state intervention (however noble the objective) is bad. This is why both Ron and Rand Paul feel that anti-discrimination legislation (such as the Civil Rights Act) is bad, and that the state should only have abolished the Jim Crow laws and left all other forms of discrimination for the market to sort out:

Similarly here they think that the rights of the telecom owners are paramount, and that good intentions will lead to unintended consequences.
Jeremy, all communities have some beliefs they regard as open to reasonable disagreement (the merits of tax increases or ethanol subsidies, say) and others they regard as so self-evidently wrong as to not be worth discussing (say, trutherism or creationism). Most of the responses here seem calculated to place opposition to NN regulation as in the second category: as worthy of ridicule rather than reasoned discussion. Jerry thinks that's unfair--that opposition to network neutrality regs is in the universe of beliefs that reasonable, well-informed people can hold. And he kindly pointed to my paper as an example of a well-reasoned argument for the position.

Obviously, most advocates of NN regulation who read it aren't going to be persuaded to change your mind. But the question is whether it's the sort of argument that deserves to be met with respectful counter-argument or ridicule.
I can easily construct a sensible reason to oppose NN legislation--who needs it?. As it's currently designed, the Internet works. Many people wonder why we should mess with a system that seems to be doing just fine as is, in order to fend off a problem that nobody currently has. Why not just leave it alone?
There are plenty of reasons to oppose any particular NN regulatory scheme, and to oppose any regulation of NN altogether. I think the question presented by Andrew was different. Why is this a "right wing" issue? Or, more to the point, why would the Tea Party pick this up as an issue? They are not in general libertarian. I think it is the case that big telecommunications company have spent a lot of money to influence influential tea party actors on this issue. If I'm wrong about that, fine. This one of several data points on this issue.
Andrew… I’m happy, as always, to engage in friendly debate with you about this, although I suspect from the tone of some of the others here that nothing I will say will convince them that opposition to Net neutrality regulation can be based on anything other than pure corporate whoring!

I’m always mystified by the highly selective nature of this rhetorical device when employed by some on the Left against libertarians. After all, as Tim Lee already alluded to in his comments above, we never seem to hear our Lefty friends trot out those arguments when they agree with us. For example, Berin Szoka and I filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court last year in the BROWN v. EMA video game case along with Lee Tien and Cindy Cohn of EFF. Why is it that I did not hear one peep from any Lefties about my obvious corporate whoring in that matter! I mean, clearly, there’s no possible way that a libertarian could support First Amendment rights. I must have just been in it for video game industry money, right?

OK, I’m being snarky here. And I know this is not your position because I’ve known you a long time and know that you do not adopt such tactics even when we do, on occasion, disagree heatedly over a major policy issue. But, even if I am wasting my breath, let me just say this to others: We libertarians in the academic and think tank world aren’t exactly living “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” If we all just in it for the money than I can tell you that we are doing a tremendously shitty job at it! (In fact, most libertarian think tanks or organizations only have something like 5 to 10% corporate funding. The organization I work for has even less.) Seriously folks, we libertarians believe in our ideas and fight for them with the same passion that you fight for yours because of a heart-felt belief in the inherent rightness of our core principles.

So, returning to Net neutrality regulation, I would hope that folks on the Left could entertain the possibility that libertarians have serious concerns about the wisdom of inviting government to establish a new regulatory regime for the Internet. If others can be open-minded enough to entertain that possibility, then I hope they will take seriously the three prongs of libertarian opposition to Net neutrality regulation. I suspect the first and second will be somewhat more compelling (or at least plausible) to the Left than the third.

(1) First, government simply does not have a very good historical track record regulating network industries.

I view Net neutrality regulation as a combination of common carriage regulation and “public interest” regulation. We have roughly 100 years’ worth of experience with these regimes in practice in various industries. And when we evaluate the success of those regimes in terms of improving economic efficiency, innovation, competitiveness, consumer welfare, etc., well.. the results have been downright dismal.

Now, it is certainly true that common carriage rules and public interest mandates were well-intentioned. For example, who could possibly be against the idea of more diversity and “balance” in the reporting of news and opinion, as was generally mandated by the so-called Fairness Doctrine? And who could be against common carrier regs that mandated “just and reasonable” rates?

But all the noble intentions in the world don’t matter a bit when stacked against the historical evidence of how well these rules and regulatory regimes worked in practice. Most of these efforts backfired miserably. The unintended consequences were myriad. Public interest regulation didn’t give us more diversity, it gave us less. It limited the vibrancy of the speech marketplace in the process. Likewise, “just and reasonable” rate regulation gave us nothing of the sort. These rules benefited incumbents more than consumers or new competitors. They did not spur more innovation or entry. And regulatory capture was absolutely rampant across the board.

Thus, by my read of history, these regulatory regimes were viciously anti-consumer.

I suppose some might disagree with this history and suggest that things weren’t as bad as I’ve made them out to be. I have very little tolerance for that suggestion because I do not believe there is any other way to read this history. I’ve spent the last 20 years attempting to document it in much of my work to remind others – especially policymakers – why we don’t want to go down that path again. But you don’t need to believe me. Read the works of Alfred Kahn (a lifelong liberal Democrat, I might note) or the countless others who have written histories of media and communications regulation. It’s a truly miserable tale.

With all that in mind, can you start to see why the libertarian might be a tad bit suspect of calls for Net neutrality regulation?

(2) Second, libertarians tend to be far more optimistic about the possibility of markets, ongoing experimentation, spontaneous/unforeseen innovation, and creative destruction to improve matters long before government regs like Net neutrality get around to doing so.

Again, the FCC just isn’t very good at regulating fast-moving industries and technologies and its track record is particularly poor when it comes to incentivizing new things (remember Video Dialtone? Open Video System rules?) Also, flexibility is crucial for fast-moving technologies and networks and we must be careful not to freeze systems and industries in stone.

While libertarians wouldn’t sympathize with efforts by network intermediaries to “block” any sort of content or traffic, we’d also challenge others to provide serious examples of this being a problem. We don’t think there is a problem here. And if there were such silly corporate efforts to meddle, we are far more optimistic about the power of market and social norms to handle it. Pressure from the press, scholars, engineers, and the general public can help curb the worst excesses. Moreover, corporate screw-ups serve as a good invitation for other innovators to take a stab at offering consumers a better deal.

There’s also the omnipresent threat of the slippery slope of regulation. “Neutrality” mandates could gradually spread to other layers of the Net and cover content and applications. We need to be careful so as not to open the door to comprehensive government regulation of the Internet. The FCC, in particular, has shown itself to be an agency with a healthy appetite for mission creep. Libertarians are highly suspect about giving a bunch of unelected bureaucrats the leeway to determine what a “neutral” Net looks like.

(3) Finally, libertarians believe that our Constitution embodies a presumption of liberty. People -- including corporations -- should be free to pursue their interests so long as they do not violate the rights of others.

This is the “knee-jerk” aspect of libertarianism that alienates many progressives who believe in a different interpretation of rights and the Constitution. For that reason, I never lead with this argument when debating communications, media, or high-technology policy. Nonetheless, I would hope that you would appreciate why this construction of rights and constitutionally-guaranteed liberties leads the libertarian to resist regulatory regimes imposed from above.

Well, I’ve gone on far too long here. I know I have not convinced you to change your mind, Andrew. I understand your position and know how passionately you feel about it. I do hope, however, that you now better understand our position on Net neutrality and realize that it has nothing to do with protecting “big corporate interests,” but rather, it’s about understanding what REAL Internet freedom should be all about!

Alas, our competing conceptions of what “freedom” entails keeps us from being allies on this particular issue. I look forward to continuing to work with you on the many other issues where our ideological traditions are in closer alignment.

Cheers – Adam Thierer
Jerry: My question is not why more orthodox libertarians oppose NN (they are a lost cause, I recognize); my question is why right-wingers (in my taxonomy, that means "people who embrace economic, social, and cultural conservatism", exemplified by Glen Beck) decided to make NN an issue. These are not libertarians; they believe in robust uses of state power to vindicate core values. So why wouldn't they believe in a rule that maximizes individual freedom to speak and read, and also maximizes entrepreneurs' freedom to innovate? One theory is Jamie's (i.e., that there's a reason it was known as the AT&Tea Party); another theory might be that these folks have some sort of general cognitive bias toward authority, including large corporations. There are surely other theories, too. Again, I don't have this mystification when it comes to people who consider themselves libertarians -- I grasp (though disagree, in this case, with) the reasoning that proceeds from their core values.
And *&$%!, now I don't have time to write a 5-part response to Adam, as the situation clearly demands! Adam, just you wait until I'm back online tomorrow. :-)
As a general rule, conservatives of all stripes tend to be skeptical of government regulation of economic activity. Social conservatives are somewhat less so, but only in a handful of cases--abortion, porn, drugs and the like. For the most part, social conservatives tend to be quite libertarian about government regulation of most other matters. Indeed, they may be becoming more so. Many social conservatives favor drug legalization, for instance. So it's not at all surprising that a pretty broad collection of conservatives don't want the government fiddling with the Internet.
Hiawatha: Here's the heart of it, to me: A government rule that says: "Last-mile pipe owners, don't fiddle with the Internet" is not the same as government fiddling with the Internet.
I see what you mean, Andrew. The Christian Coalition, for example, supports net neutrality regulation and you're wondering why more 'right-wingers' haven't followed suit. That's a good question. I suspect is because they view it as an onerous economic regulation and with little benefits and plenty of unintended consequences. The Tea Party in particular is also more libertarian than it seems, carefully avoiding any social issues and sticking to spending and regulation.

Now, I do have to point out that you brought up Adam's arguments as an example of the not-well-thought-out variety. I hope you don't place him in the 'right-winger' camp in your taxonomy. ;o) Also, congrats to Adam for the longest G+ post I've ever seen.

Anyhow, I'm usually not easily offended but it always irks me when people question my motives and I thought that's what was going on here. No doubt all sides spend a lot of money to influence, and no doubt there are plenty of reflexive automatons among conservatives liberals and libertarians, but I trust that most of us reach our conclusions after much careful thought.
@Jerry: not to hijack this thread, but I believe the Tea party does not avoid social issues. In fact, they tend to hold the positions of the most conservative portion of the republican party. Tea Party leaders have come out as anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage, etc. That doesn't seem to be about spending and regulation. If anything, it's quite anti-libertarian.
"A government rule that says: "Last-mile pipe owners, don't fiddle with the Internet" is not the same as government fiddling with the Internet."

To an opponent of government fiddling in general, it's exactly the same thing. Such a person would likely accuse you of playing word games. He'd say that by definition, any attempt by government to regulate the Internet attempt by government to regulate the Internet. Period. And government should stay out. You may disagree with this view, but it's hardly irrational.
I find that to be a silly and semantic argument. It's like saying the first amendment "regulates free speech" because it protects free speech. Are you saying the government should stay out of that? Regulation is not equal to protection. Regulating speech is the opposite of protecting free speech. Regulating the internet is the opposite of net neutrality laws, which is the protection of a right.
Jetson that is high sophistry. The First Amendment restricts government's power. It has nothing at all to say about what private parties may do. It does not establish any federal agencies or enforcement mechanisms. It simply says "Congress shall make no law.." The wording is precise.
What Tushar said. The First Amendment protects free speech precisely by forbidding most government regulation of speech. It blocks government action. That's the exact opposite of establishing government regulation of the Internet.
Tushar, you are correct, and maybe my example didn't convey what I meant it to. I was attempting to convey the difference between a regulation, which is meant to limit, and laws that protect freedom. Screaming "this is regulation!" at a net neutrality law is, while technically accurate, completely antithetical to the ideas of the "don't regulate my internet!" supporters. I think they fail to understand what net neutrality is.
You may think we opponents of NN fail to understand it. However, if you were actually interested in an honest appraisal, you would be reading Adam Thierer, Jerry Brito and Tim Lee's very well-explained reasons in dozens of posts and thoughtfully comparing it with your own positions. Instead you are here cheerleading with your fellow travelers in an exercise of mockery of the opposition. Dare I say that this may be common in politics ( everyone does it) but it does not engender a search for truth and mutual understanding
@Tushar: I'm not cheerleading with my fellow travelers; I only entered the discussion after many people had expressed both opinions. Regarding opponents of NN: would you say that the majority of social conservatives and Tea Party Republicans who oppose NN understand it fully? I've seen many examples of those who don't. And I respect those who understand it and still don't believe in it, such as yourself, despite my disagreement.
Robb your analysis has one big black hole in it - it neglects to examine the institution that you want to exercise power to bring about your desired state - the federal government and it's FCC. Simply listing the defects or future dangers in one institution is not sufficient, if another institution is asked to correct the former's shortcomings. In short, you must compare them both. In that regard, I fail to see how the monumental failures of the FCC as listed by Alfred Kahn, detailed by Adam Thierer can be overcome, when compared to the supposed future dangers from a non-NN regime.
@Jetson: I don't think either the majority of opponents OR supporters of NN fully understand it. For example, ask a random lefty at a event. Do you really think he will be able to engage Adam Thierer in a thoughtful debate? I highly doubt it. And the same goes for Tea Party/Republican opponents of NN. However, what exactly is the use of focusing on this issue as opposed to NN itself? This is what indicates to me that this discussion and the highly inflammatory post by Andrew was simply an exercise in cheerleading for one's side and mockery for the opposition - in short, a status game.
I suspect that many Republicans, and even quite a few libertarians, would be far less concerned about NN regulation if it were narrowly construed to do nothing more than prevent major providers from engaging in genuine viewpoint censorship. If, for instance, a top provider were to begin censoring traffic on its network for "evil" reasons (say, to suppress contrary viewpoints, a la "The Great FIrewall of China) I suspect few folks on the right would stand up for that provider, especially if that provider enjoyed a considerable market share in last-mile broadband.

In reality, however, NN isn't actually about ensuring a "free and open" Internet (at least not in the sense that most NN advocates, including some participating in this discussion, often make it out to be). Providers are too busy making money, or trying to do so, to worry about what kinds of viewpoints their paying customers are expressing. Examples of truly bad behavior by ISPs are astronomically few and far between. As Adam Thierer points out above, NN is fundamentally just a form of obsolete economic regulation, albeit carefully veiled in the rhetoric of freedom and openness. The prevailing view in modern industrial organization theory is that when firms in network industries engage in "discrimination" for economic reasons, it's more likely than not a good thing for consumer welfare, even when the industry in question is fairly concentrated. Since Republicans tend to be skeptical of economic regulation, it makes perfect sense that they are anti-NN.
There's a fairy-tale like quality to your portrayal of this issue. In a free market where there is a scarce resource -- and yes, broadband is a scare resource -- corporations provide the service of accessing it and compete with each other. "Enforcing net neutrality" would be like "enforcing gasoline" and making a flat, government-set price for it. While it might be nice to envision the Internet like a utility, like electricity or water, which might be subsidized or state provided, in fact it is a more complex good, and some people use a lot more of it -- torrenters of pirated movies and music, for example. Describing the reasonable rationing of the resource, or slowing of the speed as "censorship" is absurd, as these are not state actors and in a free market people have many ways to get faster Internet connections. The idea that everyone is "entitled" to content, regardless of how heavy/expensive it is in terms of bytes is like saying the government should subsidize everyone's eating of chocolate, as much or as little as they wish. "Net neutrality" is a fake terminology covering up a collectivist view of both the resources of the Internet and the government's role. Right-wingers as well as Marxists have taken up Net Neutrality merely because they like statism. And you don't have to be a libertarian with a full-blown libertarian agenda to see that NN is the ad agency Google's concoction, and it is Google that has fueled most of the agitation around this. We have a system of government with checks and balances. The judicial branch has checked and balanced the over-reaching FCC on this. We should not have federal agencies making market and utility decisions in this nature for so complex a product with so many varying levels of demands for the service. Google has long had a campaign against the telecoms, because they are the only bulwark standing in the way of Google's complete takeover of all communications. The NN debate is only one manifestation of this struggle -- others are incessant tech press diatribes against ATT and incessant cranking about Comcast service.

@AdamTheirer-- it's interesting that the lefties you argue against are aghast at the idea of government regulation of the Internet on some issues -- they hate the idea of the "kill switch"; they don't want the government eavesdropping on their conversations; they don't think the government should govern the Internet in general. Yet on NN, they suddenly rush to the nanny state, as if they want the government to provide them the sandbox of broadband but without the regulation of intervention against those who don't play nice in that sandbox. Why is that?
@JeremyDahl the real problem is that someone like yourself imagines that they have an exclusive understanding of "what's right about rights".
I'm curious. Do those who oppose network regulation also oppose spectrum regulation, cable franchise regulation, and intellectual property regulation?
Thomas: Speaking for myself, in general, yes.
@Thomas Me too. I could stomach a limited patent/copyright regime, but I'm quite skeptical of IP laws in general, and extremely skeptical of spectrum regulation and franchising rules. I'm an antitrust skeptic as well.
Under the Obama DOJ, not much antitrust activity to worry about. They even let LiveNation/Tickmaster and Oracle/MySQL merge.
I am minded to ask the UK Competition Commission to consider net neutrality as they catch the nuclear fall-out hot potato of BSkyB and the Murdochs. They need to come up with something politicians can latch on to - assuming they don't simply say Rupert can't have it...
@Thomas Claburn, you should answer my question why lefties don't want government to govern the Internet on issues of content; they don't want a kill switch; they don't want eavesdropping. But suddenly they need the government to swoop down as nanny-state and supply them with unimpeded broadband. As for your issues, I view the auctioning of spectrums and cable franchises as the same question of scarce goods as broadband, in a free market society you wouldn't be able to merely apportion these scarce goods, so I suppose you're proposing some socialist planning committee that will decide which cable station is "for a better world" or "better for the public" etc. As for "intellectual property regulation," if you mean enforcement of the inherency of copyright (Berne Convention), I'm all for that. There's a big difference between a government that enforces the rule of law in a democratic and liberal state, and a government that is doling out scarce resources in a socialist state. At least come clean on which social system you're advocating first before you whine about this or that government action. It's often the case that lefties essentially for state planning and state control can't concede that in capitalism, there isn't the wild unregulated scene they claim, there is regulation precisely for the sake of the rule of law. Capitalists don't kill off their customers. If they happen to, by breaking the law or by accident, they pay compensation.
+Catherine Fitzpatrick The fact that you see whining and advocacy in my query or in my brief acknowledgement of Jerry Brito's reply suggests a response would be unproductive.
@Andrew, as I think of it, your thesis is really hide-bound in your prejudices about what conservatives think -- and your unwillingness to conceive that liberals -- as distinct from "progressives" -- could see "net neutrality" not as "freedom-bringing" but as "freedom-limitation." Your statement, "I can only surmise that it's the product of a reflexive defense of familiar big corporate interests -- even at the expense of newer American innovators," is woefully myopic about the really big and hugely influential corporations of our times -- Google, which already has 10 million just on Google+ and of course has billions of users and zillions in revenue from ads and other services; Facebook, with its 600 million; Twitter, with its 200 million, all companies valued in the billions or multi millions. Does "innovation" somehow sanitize the status of "corporation"? Your touching indignation about "big corporate interests" seems to simply drop away magically when those "big corporate interests" are...Google and other social media titans that need free work tools and utilities to be as low-cost as possible. Google fueled a lot of the NN mania, paying for a lot of the campaign of the EFF type you saw out there, and hilariously, then backed off and made a deal with Verizon, disappointing many of their radical fans. But truly, your willingness to give the big corporate Google a pass, and invoke big corporate evil as a property only unto Verizon or Comcast or AT&T, is what once again, discredits the leftists and their "progress".
Andrew that's because our country only looks out for wall-street and not main-street. Greed is not just confined to the right or left though. They all serve corporate America's interests first. That's what the problem is. However, this stifles innovation and when you ,let's say the Att-tmobile merger, it just becomes more obvious.