The proposed FCC rules for Net Neutrality are pretty terrible. The Verge has a pretty good write up on them, here. Is this a good or bad thing? Personally, I think this is terrible for the future of innovation as I’ve written about before in a few spots, most recently here. I also think it depends on what you think about the role of the ISP. If you think that the role of the ISP is to provide a conduit to the internet and simply pass data to you, then Net Neutrality is for you. If you believe that the ISP should actively play a role in the content you seek, then Net Neutrality is not for you. If you think that the ISP has a role in shaping the way data flows, has the right to extract as much money out of the internet ecosystem, then you probably don’t think that Net Neutrality is the right thing either.
I believe that this comes from a fundamentally different world view on how the economy should function. There are a lot of people out there that truly believe that organizations have the right to maximize profitability. I don’t really think that’s true. I think that organizations have a role to play and those that exploit platforms like the internet are drains on the economy and limit our ability to innovate.
Many of the developers of the initial internet protocols strongly believe in net neutrality. Ranging from the guys that used to run Xerox PARC to Tim Breners-Lee, there’s a lot of different push back against non-neutral positions.
I think from an evolutionary economics standpoint, technology platforms of the past have been wildly successful because they’ve been able to continually lowered in prices which increases accessibility. This drives further adoption of that technology as a platform encouraging more companies to compete to make that technology platform. Some historic platforms are roads (shocking), steel, silicon chips/processors, and now the internet.
Roads have been pretty much government sponsored and open for just about anyone to use. In Portland, the Blue Line MAX line has driven $7 Billion in new development, the largest for a new commuter line anywhere. Computer chips are near and dear to my heart as I’ve worked at a few companies that make them. I think that we can all see in our daily lives how these chips have dramatically changed the world. That the company that makes chips (Intel) is worth a lot less than a company that leverages those chips (Microsoft). The combination of these two companies has essentially driven a great deal of the modernization we’ve experienced in the last 20 years in the US.
In the last 10 years the internet has driven the worlds most valuable companies. It has more quickly shifted how companies engage with their customers and powerful retail based stores have fallen on extremely hard times (Sears/KMart,etc…). My job is only made possible because of the internet I work with people in different states every day.
The fact that it will soon be government policy to enable a company to seek as much money from every user of their platform is only going to hurt the entire ecosystem. If my service stays the same but my price continually increases, that means I can’t afford to buy services that I want online, so I’ll switch to other options or drop the options all together. This will kill competition and negatively impact consumer choice. Furthermore, if I’m paying for Netflix and Comcast and Netflix is forced to pay for access to Comcast customers, then Comcast is charging everyone. I’d expect massive quality upgrades on a continual basis or something in return for all this extra cash flow. Instead it will likely go to investors in the form of higher profits.