Last week I told you about net neutrality and the 2015 government takeover of the internet. The same day I posted, the issue was supposed to be front and center for the left-wing organizers’ “Day of Action” to “save” net neutrality.
Oh, you didn’t notice? Hardly anyone else did, either. Perhaps it’s because few people really care about net neutrality since they never had a problem to begin with. Or maybe they just don’t like the precedent of treating the internet like a public utility and potentially opening it up to endless regulation.
You have to hand it to the social justice warriors; their hearts are usually in the right place. They hear a word like “neutrality” and line right up. But the only thing that isn’t neutral is when big government places its thumb on the scale.
As I wrote last week, there is widespread agreement that users should be able to go wherever they like online without fear of selective discrimination against different websites, internet traffic, or data via Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
But heavy net neutrality restrictions are unnecessary, especially the preposterous public utility rules, and few things are truly as neutral as a free marketplace without government interference.
The interesting thing is the effort was originally backed by big names like Facebook, Airbnb, Spotify, Reddit, and Netflix, among others, sites that the protesters rely on daily, both for their lifestyle choices and their low-risk activism. Then it appears these companies, while supporting the “Day of Action,” kept a relatively low profile. Why?
The fact is that all of them are extremely powerful corporations worth tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars each. Would so many big-time companies really adapt left-wing causes out of the goodness of their hearts and an unshakable sense of justice? Do they really care about fairness and all the malarkey about mom-and-pop shops?
Of course not; the activists got duped into supporting an objective that fortifies the bottom lines of these companies, the only thing that would compel them to take such bold steps.
Strict net neutrality protects their profitability for a few reasons. First, they are all well positioned now; in fact, near monopolies in their respective online spaces. Permissionless innovation can only loosen their grips, not tighten them. Breakthroughs in technology favor new entrants into the marketplace, unfettered by government, who can usurp the incumbent leaders. That’s why seemingly everyday Facebook simply buys up another new and innovative social media rival rather than compete with them.
Additionally, quasi-monopolies work best when they enjoy biased protections from the government. Overreaching net neutrality essentially protects them and discourages new investors because the utility regulations function similarly to price controls. Think about it: Google doesn’t want to pay more for better broadband just because investors want good returns on their investments.
So it turned out that on Tuesday, July 11th, the day before the Day of Action, Republican House leadership made it clear to Facebook, Google and Amazon that overly aggressive net neutrality activism could make it harder to work together on other policy issues that the companies really care about like privacy rules and legal liability for content on online platforms. So they abandoned, they toned down the resistance and left the millennials to fight the good fight.
As I said last week, the ultimate solution is to settle this issue once and for all by clearly defining the role of the federal government in the internet with a free-market based, legislative solution that locks in basic standards of net neutrality while also promoting continued private-sector investment and innovation. That’s a goal worth marching for.