A Quick Note of Agreement with Mike Masnick

I don’t check my pingbacks very often, because I know everyone who reads this blog (all seven of you!) and so pingbacks don’t usually tell me much.  So I quite failed to notice that my recent piece on net neutrality attracted a little attention outside the usual septet, and only saw Mike Masnick’s piece on Techdirt tonight, while I was up late working on a new post (working title: “S.2876: Making the War on Women Work for You!”).

Overall, Mr. Masnick agrees with me (and I with him).  He has one quibble with my presentation: its title (“Why Free Marketeers Want To Regulate the Internet”).  He writes:

…[T]he underlying claim about all of this [is] that Title II is somehow “regulating the internet.” It’s not. It’s never been about that at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s about choosing which form of regulation internet infrastructure will be ruled by. The anti-net neutrality crew like to make this mistake (and they make it often), trying to pretend that internet infrastructure is the internet. It’s not.

This is a good point.  Internet infrastructure is just a “series of tubes“, and it tends toward natural monopoly.  The actual Internet — perhaps, more properly, the World Wide Web — is an infinite space where any entrepreneur can hang out his shingle to sell any good or service, with no permits, no regulation, and no limits except his imagination.  It is closer to the fabled “perfectly competitive free market” than anything else mankind has ever seen… probably ever will see.

Despite the title of my piece, free marketeers don’t want to regulate the Internet.  We want to regulate the infrastructure that undergirds the Internet precisely in order to preserve the freedom of markets and peoples who are actually on the Internet.  The distinction is important, it is too often forgotten, and it has recently been exploited by ISPs making the specious argument that invoking Title II against Internet infrastructure providers (say, Comcast) would force the FCC to also invoke it against World Wide Web content providers (say, Google), destroying the freedom and innovation of the online marketplace.  The reality is just the opposite: if we don’t regulate internet infrastructure, the infrastructure monopolists will attack the online free market… and win.

Mr. Masnick goes on to observe that internet infrastructure has always been both regulated and heavily subsidized by governments at all levels.  As free marketeers know, government subsidies are just another form of regulation, no less disruptive to markets than price controls.  The big ISPs are only discovering the beauty of markets now that regulation might hurt their bottom line. I don’t know that that adds anything to our economic case — I doubt it — but it sure does make me feel less guilty about throwing the book at them.

The only other thing I’d like to mention from the pingbacks is that, contra the good folks at Engine.is, I am not Cleveland State University Lecturer Dr. James J. Heaney — although, looking at his publications list, I’m certain we’d get along famously.  I am the mere Mr. James J. Heaney, Minnesota software developer, founder and director of the James J. Heaney Institute for the Inquiry into Natural Philosophy and Science-y Things, and Star Trek audio drama producer (and, yes, that site is long overdue for an upgrade).

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  • Katie

    I didn’t see a way to comment on the original article. Wanted you to know that I read every single word of all however-many-pages there were. You changed my mind about net neutrality and taught me something about economics that I missed (specifically the way utilities consolidate into natural monopolies and REQUIRE government intervention, something that I literally shiver at).

    I wish every single person that votes had to read your article. Thanks for the hours and hours that must have gone into it.

  • Tyler

    I will echo what Katie said: your piece on net neutrality was phenomenal. The best I’ve read. I’m in the telecom industry and the majority of us don’t even understand it.

  • yair_marx

    Your original article was fantastic, thank you for putting this out there. I just wish people like Ted Cruz would read it.

    • BCSWowbagger

      So do I! Thanks for your comment.