Net Neutrality Arguments
Net neutrality seems like a simple issue of corporations and big business fighting for government to open up more avenues for profit. However, despite the calls from the majority of the tech community to uphold net neutrality, there are those who oppose the idea, and not just those who are paid by telecoms giants or lobby groups.
In an article for Forbes, Josh Steimle questioned why he seemed to be the only techie against the idea of net neutrality. He disputed that there are more than just 2 sides to the argument; that you are either for or against corporations having “control” of what you can see on the internet. He isn’t against net neutrality as a concept, rather his concerns lie with net neutrality in terms of legislation or public policy. He outlined 3 reasons for his concerns that I feel perfectly frame the best arguments opposing net neutrality:
Monopolies are bad. Everyone can agree on that. They are bad for pricing, competition and innovation, and government imposed monopolies are even worse. Do you think we would have had the same growth and innovation in smartphones if the government still owned the phone system? Or the same growth in space tech if NASA still had the monopoly? When deregulation occurs, generally innovation will follow.
The reason that telecoms have so much power is not in spite of government regulation; it is because of government regulation. If net neutrality is passed in legislation it may become more difficult for new companies to offer internet services, and we could end up more beholden to ISPs than before. However, if telecoms have to compete in a truly free market. For example, in the US, Comcast and Time Warner would be replaced by better cheaper options unless they remain competitive. If you want to break up monopolies you have to eliminate regulations, not enhance them. The problem here is that there needs to be some change in legislation to allow the market to become more open, otherwise ISPs won’t be challenged in their monopolies.
Free Speech cannot exist without privacy; so should we trust the government to be the gate-keepers of our privacy? Under net neutrality legislation the government would either have to trust the ISPs to regulate themselves, or the government would have to become the regulatory body. There is fear in the tech community that government monitoring could go further than simply monitoring, given the revelations in Glen Greenwald’s book No Place to Hide that the U.S. government has been tampering with Internet routers in collaboration with the NSA.
What this argument fails to consider is that without some form of regulation and oversight, there is always likely to be abuses of power – that is unfortunately the nature of the world we live in. The difference is when government provides that oversight, that we can hold them to account, question them, and even vote them out of power. Corporations and large ISPs don’t answer to the public in the way government does.
(Image courtesy of Unsplash and the tremendous artists involved in the initiative)
Any form of legislation or regulation is a limit to freedom and the free market. In an ideal world, governments always act with the best interests of their people at the heart of what they do. However, this is rarely the case, politics is a dirty business and corporate interests and lobby groups often have more influence than many of us realise. The fear is that any form of legislation will be influenced by these large groups to benefit them, in ways that may seem to be for the good of the people. Regulation in any form should be viewed as a restriction on freedoms in the long run.
However, this seems like a cynical view of government (though it is perhaps not too far from the truth) and, much like the previous argument, it fails to consider that government can be held to account.
Although there are a number of arguments against the adoption of net neutrality, including one ISP who claims it would be a restriction of free speech, the general consensus seems to be that, if done right, it is the most effective way to secure free speech and ensure that the internet remains a level playing field. We have to trust someone to regulate ISPs in some way, so is it better to trust the ISPs themselves? Or to trust the institutions that the people can hold to account?
By Josh Hamilton