In 1994, I was paying $50 per month to access the Internet from my home through a local BBS via 14.4kbps modem. In 2009, for the same $50 per month, my home network connects to the Internet via cable modem at 4 Mbps up and 14.4 Mbps down. At each step of the way, I have read the breathless warnings that, “that's it. We can't go any faster!”
Although my meager monthly contributions certainly haven't driven this astounding increase in speed / reduction in price, and no law has compelled the technological advancements that have made them possible, I have benefited quite nicely, thank you very much. But now, backers of Net Neutrality tell me there's a new threat to my Internet access that will render the Roto Rooter man powerless to help me.
There are many good (and, not-so-good) explanations of the premise of the Net Neutrality concern, but suffice it to say there is a fear that the owners of the backbone of the Internet will enact widespread discrimination, slowing or blocking certain types of data or data from certain sources. Net Neutrality advocates want to prevent this discrimination.
To that end, advocates of Net Neutrality have teamed up with the owners of the largest networks to influence the Federal Trade Commission and push Net Neutrality legislation (NNL) through the US congress.
As cynical as I may be about any government solution to any problem, even I am amazed at the level of hubris required to propose threats of physical violence against a person based on the speed of electron flows through wires and computers they own. That just sounds like a bad idea all around.
But, since no one cares what I think, I set up the candles and Ouija board and asked the eternal question, “WWHBD”?
Harry Browne on Net Neutrality
(adapted from “The 7 Never-to-be-Forgotten Principles of Government”)
1. Government is Force: There is no difference, morally, ethically, or practically between claiming you have the right to traverse my property (real or virtual) unimpeded and claiming that you have the right to kill me at your pleasure. The NNL offers humans three options: don't run a network, run your network in 100% compliance with the arbitrary demands of people who are not you, or death.
Oh, hyperbole! Really?
Suppose I run my network in a counter-economic fashion, that is, I run it in complete disregard of the rules and regulations specified by NNL. If that is acceptable, then NNL is nothing but a whitepaper of suggestions for network owners and is completely superfluous. Suppose I would choose to run it exactly as NNL would prescribe; again NNL would be superfluous.
However, we all know that the purpose of NNL is to force network owners to run their networks in ways they would not choose, and that the only credible force is lethal force. Advocates of NNL are unashamedly declaring, “I know how to run a network better than the network owner and am willing to kill him or her to prove it.”
2. Government is Politics: Net Neutrality is an ideology, separate and distinct from NNL. NNL advocates desperately want to frame the debate as the ideology of net neutrality vs. the ideology of evil, money-grubbing corporations who will erect tollbooths at every node.
But, politicians and bureaucrats are not ideological, they are political. The votes and decisions will be made in favor of those with the most political influence and completely disregard the ideology.
3. You don't control government: Right now, NNL is being written by lawyers working for the organizations NNL advocates are most worried about. As final drafts are debated, the politicians and bureaucrats will select the versions of law and rules that most benefit the parties with the most political influence – money, not votes.
After enactment, judges will render decisions on challenges to NNL and bureaucrats will selectively enforce NNL based on political influence – money, not votes.
4. Every government program will be more expensive and more expansive than anything you had in mind when you proposed it: Within minutes of NNL being signed into law, some judge will render a decision that finds, within NNL provisions prohibiting blockage or slowdown of data, a requirement to block or slow down certain types of data. Seconds later, bureaucrats will find a reading requiring (or even just allowing) the monitoring of all Internet traffic at all times, necessitating massive outlays of taxpayer dollars to build monitoring centers that duplicate already-existing centers funded by the black ops budget.
5. Power will always be misused: Because the options for network owners are 100% compliance or death, NNL will hand another brickbat to bureaucrats for nefarious uses. That brickbat will be used to convince network owners to willingly hand over the private data that has traversed their network and would otherwise require a warrant, even if the network is in 100% compliance! Bureaucrats don't have to make truthful allegations of non-compliance or prove the allegations when they have the full faith and credit of the national government backing their threat of incessant harassment and unending legal fees as a bludgeon to use for non-related purposes.
6. Government doesn't work: For all the reasons above, there is no chance that NNL can result in accomplishing the goals of the Net Neutrality crowd. To the contrary, there is a high probability that NNL will do exactly the opposite of what they intend.
7. Government must be subject to absolute limits: Yet, government actors will never willingly subject themselves to those limits. NNL opens a whole new door that the national government has been, so far, loathe to enter, but we know exactly what will happen once it does.
There is nothing in the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution that would give it supremacy over the Takings and Contracts Clauses, yet as it is used today, the Commerce Clause knows no boundaries. NNL would violate all three clauses as originally conceived; it takes the private property of the network owners without compensation, interferes in any contracts the network owner should wish to make, and makes commerce conducted over the network irregular.
That is exactly why the owners of the largest networks have all signed on to supporting NNL. Why settle for erecting easily circumvented toll booths on their own networks when they can use lethal force to eliminate competition, claim the entire Internet as one big toll booth, and split the proceeds?
With all that in mind, Harry Browne has some questions for every advocate of Net Neutrality-as-law to ask themselves:
1. Do I really want to use force to make this happen? Do I have any idea how many families may be destroyed by giving the government another tool to be enforced with fines and prison terms?
2. Do I really believe that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Tom Boehner, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Barack Obama will have my best interests at heart when they fashion this new program or law?
3. Why should I believe supporting this program will lead to exactly the solution I believe is right — when I have no way to control the outcome?
4. Do I really think the politicians won't expand the scope and cost of this program far beyond what they're talking about today?
5. Do I really want to give politicians this kind of power — knowing that some day the politicians and party I don't like will have it at their disposal?
6. Why in the world should I think this government program will work any better than any government program of the past?
7. How can I hope to bring about accountable government when I'm suggesting a new government program that will take us further away from the Constitution?
Thank you for your time, Harry. Tomorrow maybe you'll have some time to spend with the marijuana “tax and regulators”.