Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Net Neutrality and Why "Radical Libertarians" Are Hilarious

Commenting on the Gizmodo post where this seminal image first appeared, a self-labeled "radical libertarian" has outlined why Net Neutrality is actually, beneath its freedom-promoting veneer, an affront to the rights, sacred honor, and quiet dignity of all the world's freedom-loving peoples. Mind you, to see this, one must don libertarian goggles, which are to idiotic arguments what beer goggles are to regrettable one-night-stands:
Here's how it would likely play out:

First, we should acknowledge that the cheaper service options will probably appeal to some people. My father, for example, is an AOL user and rarely travels outside that ecosystem. He and other basic Net browsers may be quite happy paying less for less service. Don't assume your level of browsing is the same as everyone else's.
Exactly! Like so many countless millions of web users, Radical Libertarian's dad sticks with the demographically-tuned offerings that AOL has thoughtfully selected for him. (But seriously -- there's still an AOL?)

Having exposed the cruel elitism behind the proposition that a truly world-wide web could perhaps put people in touch with novel ideas, our radical libertarian considers counter-arguments:
Second, what do you think will happen when a limited-tier user gets a link in an e-mail from a close friend, a link to a site outside her tiered service? She'll click on it and Rotten Prick ISP will intercept the connection and tell her she'll need to upgrade her service to access the site. How many times do you think that'll happen before the user gets frustrated and starts demanding an everything-goes access plan? Multiply that by everyone else irritated by the limits.

Suddenly, the interconnectedness of the Net reasserts itself through the end users who don't want to figure out which websites are allowed and which ones aren't. Who wants to wait for the SocialNet upgrade to include the next big thing once Facebook fades away? Who wants to have to install software to parse links to tell you ahead of time that THIS is allowed while THAT isn't? What ISP admins, financial accountants, and sales managers want to deal with sorting, analyzing, checking, ranking, packaging, and adjusting the service plans for the hundreds of new websites that appear each day?

Fewer and fewer people, I'd say.
Voila! The invisible hand has strangled this problem in the crib. And who can gainsay the analysis in light of current practices of cable tee-vee providers, who learned immediately that customers would reject them if they dared to restrict access to some televised content. The only market equilibrium is the happy one we all presently experience, or so I assume upon the good faith and credit of libertarianism: the one in which every single cable tee-vee viewer receives every single channel, all hours, all days, and at competitive prices.

Or take the wireless telecommunications carriers, who would dry up and roll to oblivion like so many tumbleweeds soon after trying to privilege some incoming/outgoing calls, or some content sources, or some devices. People wouldn't stand for it. Problem solved! Or rather -- problem? What problem?

The sturdy analysis concludes:
All-in-one packages make the most sense for Net access because you have no idea where your browsing will take you each day.

Speaking practically, I doubt this finely-grained nightmare tier scenario would last long. Think of the competitive advantages to ISPs who didn't adopt tiered service plans? They'd have their PR practically written for them ("Sick of wondering what website is allowed THIS WEEK? Tired of inconsistent download speeds because your Internet service provider plays favorites ...
This conclusion is the very most special part of the analysis because, first, it undercuts Radical Libertarian's initial insight above by noting that salt-of-the-earth browsers like dear old AOL-subscribing dad have no ready way to tell where the next hyperlink will take them, short of locating the URL and checking it against their limited plan's in-network sites. This would be incredibly tedious at best, and in the case of URL's masked by any of dozens of shorteners or innumerable proxies and similar arrangements, outright impossible. This being so, it's difficult to see in what sense people would find themselves in a position to choose these inexpensive, reduced-access connectivity plans that Radical Libertarian started out praising.

Second, Radical Libertarian was subtle about it, but in this conclusion he came around to correcting his glaring excluded middle fallacy (er, one of them). Above, recall, he guffawed at the suggestion that ISPs would ever dare to cut off access to certain sites: "... which websites are allowed and which ones aren't" and so on. By the end, though, he has allowed for the possibility of what's actually proposed by the big-dollar opponents of net neutrality, namely, that they'll trim back the connection speed to non-favored sites/content while privileging the connection speed to favored sites/content. So, sure you'll get to the fart-sneezing panda video you've been dying to see, eventually, but not nearly as fast as you'll get to the screaming loud HD trailer for Pirates of the Goddamn Carribean XIII and Another Fucking Shrek: Oh Please, Not This Again.

In short, let us wake up, sober up, and regard the libertarian arguments against net neutrality snoring and slobbering inelegantly onto the pillow beside us. We should say yes to net neutrality, and no to its opponents before we accept things we will later profoundly regret.

1 comment:

Sheldon said...

"(But seriously -- there's still an AOL?)"

Haven't you heard? They won' let them leave.