The Apparatus Cost of Net Neutrality
Nov11
Culture & Current Events3

The Apparatus Cost of Net Neutrality

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.

Tags

Internet, Policy, Regulation, Rule of Law

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3 Comments

  • 1

    Denver Casey

    Nov 11, 2014 at 18:02 | Reply

    Reminds me of the argument that, over a certain domain, natural monopolies exist and therefore should be protected. After a certain point, though, multiple firms can exist. The problem is when does government “protection” go away? Letting the FCC muck around with the internet just lets all the toothpaste out of the tube. Yeah, we have fresh breath for a bit, but sooner or later we gotta clean the mess.

    • 2

      Cameron Harwick

      Nov 11, 2014 at 18:22

      “Sooner or later we gotta clean the mess.” True, but as hard as some people are working, that’s not on the table right now. The question is, what do we do in the meantime that makes cleanup easier in the future? In this case, it seems smarter to fight the FCC once the NSA threat subsides than to fight the NSA once the FCC threat subsides. The FCC is at least a definite target. The NSA, on the other hand, protects itself in a shroud of secrecy so you can’t fight it.

  • 3

    Ken Amelio

    Nov 12, 2014 at 8:00 | Reply

    I don’t really see the regulatory cost argument either. Net neutrality nearly codifies what has been the norm without it.A non-neutral network generally involves the network demanding higher prices from noncustomers to deliver services to its customers. If this is illegal, all that is required to enforce the regulation is to show such demands to a regulator.

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Hi, I'm C. Harwick, an economics PhD candidate in Virginia with an interest in monetary theory, institutional evolution, and folk music.

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