No, Killing Net Neutrality Does Not Help the Underdog

Killing Net Neutrality Helps Underdogs Succeed

Go ahead and read it - but suffice it to say that I'm not going to engage with the majority of what is said there - I just don't have time.

I'd just like to address one point that is made therein:

Net neutrality activists often fear that because small content creators couldn’t compete in such a market, it would in turn reduce the diversity of internet content. (For example, some argue that users would “naturally gravitate” to the big brands who can afford to pay the bill if Comcast and Verizon do decide to charge them more for streaming video over their pipes.) 
But the video market is already very different from the rest of the web. Because it doesn’t make sense to build one’s own streaming infrastructure when you can embed a YouTube player that better delivers streaming capacity anyway, the “small guys” creating video content already work through large platforms such as Netflix and YouTube. In short, these intermediaries help to solve the capacity problem, countering whatever market power broadband providers might have.
Do you see the switch that has occurred there? Simply because right now many people are just becoming aware of the net neutrality debate because of what is happening with Netflix throttling does not mean net neutrality is about video†.

It's about developers.

Let me explain, because this is what net neutrality is about:

If you were to make a new awesome site, lets say, twitter for cats, lets call it kitter, and you were to put it on the web, you may wonder why no one is getting to your site, and why they all complain of a truly horrible user experience. Then, because the average bounce time of 15 seconds is less than your average load times of 30 seconds, you simply get no traction, despite the fact that we know there are literally billions - billions - of cats that want on to your site. Then you figure out why, when suddenly -as your blood runs cold - you get an email from Verizon demanding 50 cents per user to ensure load times of less than one second. Well, you sigh then take down your service, because you are working out of your garage while holding down a steady job as a graphic designer and cannot afford to pay several million dollars to get your first few hundred repeat users. That is the story of a world without net neutrality: killing ultralight, hugely innovative products before they can ever leave the garage or dorm room because they will have to pay ridiculous access fees to the networks before they can ever leave the starting gate. You know, just like little known services like such as Twitter and Facebook - both invented in dorm rooms, and both of which got huge traction long, long before making anything remotely resembling real money. If either had to pay huge up-front service fees to ISPs just to get their message out, they would have been dead in the water.

Also, please note that one of the authors writes from George Mason's Mercatus Center, which apparently is funded by Koch money. That may or may not matter, but from what I've seen they are pretty committed to letting markets regulate everything - and that stance alone makes their commentary on regulation more suspect than wherever their money may come from. Either way, take it with a grain of salt. As you should the entire op-ed.

Further note that the other author is from the Tech Freedom center, which, from my reading, is not about the freedom of tech, but of the freedom of tech from regulation. The list of goals on their own site:
  • 1. To make the case for pragmatic optimism by highlighting the benefits of technological change and bottom-up solutions to concerns raised by change.
  • 2. To highlight the costs to consumers of regulatory overreach.
  • 3. To develop and defend the most effective means for government to remedy real harms—focusing on increased education, innovation in consumer empowerment tools, and better enforcement of existing laws. 
  • 4. To facilitate constructive, serious dialogue on technology policy through regular events.
It's convenient that they managed to come up with an argument that supports one of their preconceived notions.

Reading more about them, I actually find this position somewhat strange, as I actually do (for the most part) agree with their stances on CDA § 230 and the CFAA - but they seemed to have really missed the boat on net neutrality. It is just irksome to see such poor arguments as the ones advanced in the Wired op-ed come from a source that seems to have a lot of good stuff to say. I think it clouds their overall message.

Luckily, however, and in conclusion the White House and the FCC both seem to disagree with these guys. That is at least somewhat promising. Let's hope the next draft of FCC rules stand up to court scrutiny.

Update: Just wanted to post this to give a final bit of color to the absurdity of the whole debate we are having now: American internet is vastly overpriced.

† Note, however, their argument about video is poor. It is simply that because small content creators can leverage Netflix's massive infrastructure and deep pockets doesn't mean there is a problem is nonsense. They even point out a flaw in their own argument - that Netflix acts as a gatekeeper. Well, what if you create video and want to self distribute? Because, you know, Netflix is totally opaque about viewership stats and not everyone is thrilled about Google? If you find yourself an amateur artist and want to post video on your own site, hosted on your own server, without net neutrality enforced, expect your viewership experience to be totally unusable.


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