This morning I started looking into Fairfax County ordinances on cable because I had a brilliant idea that examining regulatory text would make the basis for a rollicking, farcical article. I only got a few paragraphs in. ZZZZZzzzzzz… BORING!!! But… Enough to figure out that a Fairfax County cable franchise entails $5k application fee and $500k bonds. Ouch. And that doesn’t include the franchise fees themselves.
The idea was going to be that we don’t have enough competition for internet services because of the pay-to-play rules that local municipalities have put in place, and really that’s a fundamental problem that we should fix to save the internet. God that sounds dry even as I write about it in the meta. I lost interest after working at it for a bit. And instead I wrote this little ditty instead.
I noticed that Net Neutrality (or Net Neutering, as I like to call it) remains a topic that still easily grabs my attention. Why does it? Because I know enough to see the political exploitation going on. Yet again, the masses, to which group I usually belong, are proving to be easily hoodwinked and it upsets me to see it. There is a sick combination of the fact that most people are ignorant of how the internet is composed and, more specifically, how peering is done.
I say ‘ignorance’ here without judgment. I wouldn’t expect most people to know how the internet is composed. A well-run utility is understood by its users through the components of its public interface. Using the car as an analogy: You might understand what goes on under the hood of your car but you don’t need to in order to work the steering wheel, the pedals, and the gear selector.
I’d like for you to consider this question: if most people are ignorant of the details of the technology and composition of the Internet, by what stretch of the imagination are they fit to make decisions on regulation? I can’t fathom it. But that’s what’s so clever about the other main ingredient of the Net Neutering campaign. Whipping the public into a frenzy of fear so that they clamor for increased government power.
This is achieved by mass media messaging designed to induce dystopian fears of an internet where only the fast lanes will get you anywhere you care to be, and the hippie free-love internet will starve to death. The dystopian fear leads the unwary reader to conclude that something must be done to protect the Internet.
Widespread Ignorance + Widespread Fear/Panic = An Exploitable Revolution
And the proposed solution is FCC regulation. Always more regulation… Worst of all is that the people flogging regulation operate on and promote the unquestioned assumption that a government regulatory body actually represents the consumer.
The so-called public interest is an indefinable notion since the only bona-fide common interests of all are defined in the lowest rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Food, shelter… these things are best handled by the free market.
The consumer, as a class of people, is a non-concept. Everyone who earns money is a producer. Everyone who spends money is a consumer. Thus, we are ALL consumers and we are ALL producers.
The classes as defined are meaningless and regulation is, thus, arbitrary… lacking any real rational basis for constraint.
I will be repeating this a lot so you don’t need to read or remember this next line at all: There is no precondition for government corruption that is more powerful than arbitrary power.
Well, for those who want an antidote against this sort of manipulation, I have a prescription: Don’t panic!
How? We can use the same methods that we use to make sure we buy low and sell high in the financial markets! (No… I’m not saying we need to use dollar-cost-averaging and rebalancing… :)
I would like to quote Jack Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, on this one: “Don’t do something, stand there!!!”. His advice helps us to overcome a very common cognitive bias toward action. It recognizes that we, as humans, are bad at predicting outcomes. We are bad at guessing where the market will be in 6 months let alone a year.
Well… we are really, really bad at predicting direct and secondary effects of public policy. Don’t panic! Don’t be manipulated! And think your way through it long term.
Here’s my strong conviction for the most effective long term solution to protect the internet: get government out of the way of new competition instead of ceding it more arbitrary power.