June 19th, 2006
Never, it seems, has an issue been so neck-deep in BS on both sides as “net neutrality.” Andy Kessler has a great piece in The Weekly Standard where he rips the disingenuousness of both sides and proposes what I’ve advocated for in the past: government usurpation of the networks to create a competitive marketplace by force, i.e. eminent domain for broadband.
Network neutrality won’t be the laissez-faire sandbox its supporters think, but more like used kitty litter. We all know that regulations beget more lobbyists. I’d rather let the market sort these things out.
But what market? Phone lines, cable, and cellular–i.e., the means of Internet access–are all regulated; their operators are quasi-monopolies. Even if you end the monopolies, the incumbents have the advantage of a huge head start. Broadcasters own valuable spectrum and feed us cretinous shows like Wife Swap and The Bachelor. Cable has a lock on our homes via local franchise bribes, er, fees, so we get Lifetime and Animal Planet that no one watches. Satellite TV is content to charge just a hair under cable’s pricing umbrella. For phone companies, too much Internet bandwidth would threaten their bread and butter–overpriced $25 per month (it’s worth no more than $1) phone service and hot innovations like call waiting.
So how do we fix this? Are we stuck in telco hell? Silicon Valley can ignite a political arms race and spend more on lobbyists, but why play an old man’s game? Instead, these webbies should get creative, change the rules. Bam-Bam, not Barney Rubble is the future. Take the telcos and cable companies out at the knees.
Here’s an idea: Start screaming like a madman and using four letter words–like K-E-L-O. And fancier words like “eminent domain.” I know, I know. This sounds wrong. These are privately owned wires hanging on poles. But so what? The government-mandated owners have been neglecting them for years–we are left with slums in need of redevelopment. Horse-drawn trolleys ruled cities, too, but had to be destroyed to make way for progress. How do we rip the telco’s trolley tracks out and enable something modern and real competition?
Mike at Tech Dirt has long shared my view that the neutrality debate is bogus and that the lack of competition is the real issue, and he comes out in support of Kessler.
Here it is again in a nutshell — net neutrality is a solution that doesn’t fix the root cause problem — the lack of competition in broadband.
Fixing that problem is going to take a radical solution — until it’s fixed, the consumer above all is going to continue taking it on the chin.