Published on September 29th, 2014 | by ryankapsar1
Policy and Games: Wrapping up Net Neutrality
Policy and Games is a look at tech policy and the gaming world. The views expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of KBMOD or any of its contributors.
I’ve been writing a series of Net Neutrality Posts (Article 1, Article 2) where I’ve discussed the rationale behind the developing a data neutral internet architecture. I’ve also discussed the orthogonal business models on each side of the argument. However, Net Neutrality requires an act of the government to be implemented. That’s problematic for many people. In many cases government action causes great harm to the social good, business, and itself. Fortunately, this isn’t always the case. Net Neutrality is one of those cases as there are many different actors that are interested in both destroying net neutrality as well as strengthening it. In these cases the government needs to act in the manner that promotes the most common good.
What do I mean by common good? One of the quickest ways to understand this is to talk about something called the “Tragedy of the Commons.” This is an economic theory that can be understood through a simple story.
There is a field that a group of shepherds share and have agreed not to overgraze the field. However, one of them gets greedy and decides to buy an extra goat. None of the other shepherds notice, so he decides to buy another, since he was able to make some extra money on the milk and meat. Over time other shepherds notice and begin to do the same. Eventually, the field is overgrazed and all the goats die, leading to serious problems for everyone.
The individuals were maximizing their benefits while negatively impacting the full community. Eventually, if unmanaged, it can lead to a collapse of the local economy. How is that applicable to Net Neutrality? Translating the analogy doesn’t work so well for telecom, as the amount of grass increases as the number of users increase. The value of each goat increases exponentially rather than linearly. It’s one of the reasons why What’s App was able to be sold for $19Billion or $42/user. The problem is that the telecoms want their goats only and will limit other people to the crappy parts of the field that have already been grazed to dirt.
The impact, in real terms, is that losing net neutrality will prevent competition, give preference to incumbent firms, and reduce our ability to control our free speech. In this case it can be argued that for the common good, and to prevent the tragedy of the commons, to make sure that the amount of grass on the field increases, make it impossible to fence the field, and manage the bad actors. In this case we know that the bad actors are the ISPs (and in some cases the internet companies), and since it’s a near monopoly, it’s only going to impact a few actors if we maintain Net Neutrality, while opening the internet to fast lanes and other “traffic shaping practices” will impact a large number of actors and prevent new companies from being created. I think that the case for Net Neutrality is clear in this instance.
Let’s say you’re still against all sorts of government regulations. What can you do to try to address these issues? For one, encrypt everything and get all of your friends to encrypt everything too. Support businesses that encrypt all their data at a high enough rate that prevents deep packet inspection. Don’t use an ISP that supports internet Fast Lanes, even if that means slower speeds.
If you want something kind of in the middle, like at the state or local government level, then work to make sure that it stays legal for your city to introduce a municipal broadband. Chattanooga, Tennessee has gigabit internet because of their decision to have a local government partner with a business to build out and manage the network. In Chattanooga, they developed a Public Private Partnership, which allows government funds to directly support the build out while being managed professionally by a company. The goal is to make a profit for the company and the city, so if it’s successful everyone wins. In this way, we can look at internet not as a public utility, but as a public transportation system that enables economic activity, while not intended to make a profit. For instance the Max (light rail system) in Portland has generated $8Billion in economic development in the past 10 years. The internet has similarly enabled massive amounts of “economic development.” Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Valve have become massive organizations that have annual revenue in the billions of dollars all do to equal access to content and ads.
Regardless of what you think the government should do, you need to act. Take action contacting your elected official. They may totally ignore you and give you a form letter response, however, unlike the FCC, they do vote based on two things, money and the amount of constituents that contact them about an issue. The more people in your area that contact your elected officials the more likely you’re going to be able to keep the internet open. I’ve contacted mine in every state I’ve lived in. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has some great resources (FCC, NSA) to help you contact your officials. So please act, you really can make a difference!