Net neutrality is a winning issue. Not only that, but people are likely to ignore libertarian arguments on the issue because it sounds a lot like what they love about the rule of law. General rules, non-discrimination, etc.
The standard rejoinder – the best one, at least – is that the enforcement of net neutrality comes with a steep apparatus cost, namely giving the FCC a lot of power over the internet. With the authority to regulate telecoms and internet traffic, what else are we implicitly authorizing them to do?
But I’m not sure if net non-neutrality doesn’t come with its own apparatus cost. Managing internet traffic – especially deep packet inspection – has only become feasible relatively recently. It may ultimately be profitable to invest in that architecture, but it’s a significant investment, and difficult to administer.
What is worrisome about an investment like that is that it’s very easily coopted by government agencies more nefarious than the FCC. The major telecoms have already shown themselves to be pushovers when approached by the NSA. People worry about the FCC using its power over the internet for censorship, but practically speaking, net neutrality rules would prevent expensive traffic-managing investments from being made – investments that would be necessary for censorship, tracking, and other things the NSA might like to do.
Neutrality advocates often compare a non-neutral internet to toll roads, and the comparison is apt on more levels than they usually intend. Maybe in our ideal world we’d want privatized and priced roads. But given that pricing requires a toll apparatus, and that these agencies are already using what exists to track people, might the continuance of free government-provided roads be, for now, the least-cost way of limiting government expansion on this front?
Likewise on the internet. In the current climate of executive overreach and obfuscation, giving the FCC visible and defined new powers may be the best way to prevent other agencies from exercising invisible and undefined new powers.