Indian Libertarians

Don’t ask for Net Neutrality - Free the Internet instead

admin Monday January 20, 2014

Ever wonder why the social media is more free than the television media? Ever wonder why important information is disseminated more easily in social media than in television, even though television has the power to reach a wider audience simultaneously? The answer is private property.

An interesting example on this issue is given by David Friedman in his book “The machinery of freedom”. Where he tries to compare private property with property that has been designated as “public property.” He argues that the print media (in the US) is more free than television media because of the right of the individuals to run their own printing press:


“The printed media (newspapers, magazines, and the like) are produced entirely with private property. Buy newsprint and ink, rent a printing press, and you are ready to go. Or, on a cheaper scale, use a Xerox machine. You can print whatever you want without asking permission from any government. Provided, of course, that you do not need the U.S. Post Office to deliver what you print. The government can use, and occasionally has used, its control over the mails as an instrument of censorship. Broadcast media (radio and television) are another matter. The airwaves have been designated as public property. Radio and television stations can operate only if they receive permission from the Federal Communications Commission to use that property. If the FCC judges that a station does not operate 'in the public interest', it has a legal right to withdraw the station's license, or at least to refuse to renew it.”

Private property is liberty that enables us to practice free speech, theft of private property enables the government to control our speech. The broadcast media is not free precisely because spectrum is considered as public property - which the government can control.

A similar analogy can be applied to “net neutrality”. It is funny that the same people who distrust the FCC, are now calling for the FCC to enforce “net neutrality” on the Internet to solve the problems that FCC itself created. The truth is that net neutrality is about who controls broadband - the corporations or the government? The government is never neutral, expecting them to enforce “net neutrality” is impossible. The demand for “net neutrality” is exactly that - demand for making Internet a public property, ie controlled and censored by the government. FCC will do to the Internet what it did to the broadcast industry: control, by license mechanism, what should be allowed on the Internet.

But this does not mean we ignore the problem (which most people on the right are currently doing), it just means recognizing and breaking the shackles on the Internet. In David Friedman’s example, if we had to free the print media, we would need need to deregulate the postal service. Allowing anyone to create a distribution network so that print media can have alternatives in case a network (like government’s postal service) decides to censor. The problem lies, as always, in the lack of choices.

Internet’s shackles are similar. Consider the amount of licenses that are needed to set up networks, both inside the country and outside. Consider the licenses on spectrum allocation and broadcast. All these have contributed in creating a controlled industry where the corporations have become large enough to censor certain traffic types (hence the demand for net neutrality). But asking the government to enforce net neutrality standards is like asking for a ball and chain shackle to be attached to the left leg because the one on the right leg might cause imbalance.

Imagine the FCC threatening to cancel the licenses of ISPs who refuse to censor content which FCC considers inappropriate (something FCC has done with radio stations). Imagine the six strike plan to be enforced by FCC (and not just a few ISPs) after it has gained complete control over ISPs. If you think censorship by a private party is terrible, just wait till you have experienced censorship by the government.

The answer lies in freeing the Internet - and not just the internet space, but the infrastructure too. Removing all the regulations and licenses that are controlling the spread of the Internet. While it is true that creating a network requires capital investment, it makes no sense to add more burden on the people who want to set up infrastructure for the Internet.

Google (and others) have been asked to route all traffic for Indian users through India, but you can imagine why Google is reluctant in doing this. In USA, at least there are some privacy laws that restrict the government from spying (laws which were broken by the NSA), in India we have no such laws. I, for one, am in agreement with Google on this issue. I would never trust the Indian government, who has a direct interest in me as i am an Indian, over the US government when it comes to privacy.

Don’t demand net neutrality as it will just make government the master of the Internet and remove the little freedom of choice we do have. Instead ask for more freedom of choice - a free market in the Internet sector.

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