FCC, Net Neutrality, and the Internet as a platform

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.

Texas Repulicans

Yesterday the Texas Republican Party released their platform. It’s terrifying. It starts out innocently enough saying that they plan to uphold the constitution and that everyone is created equally. However, that’s the end of the good stuff. As I tweeted out yesterday there’s a portion that says that they do not support teaching children critical thinking or anything that could lead them to question their current belief system or parental authority.

I can’t think of a better definition of science than critical thinking, questioning current beliefs and authority. When a scientist makes a discovery that doesn’t conform to the current scientific paradigm(program) accepting the results for the experiment REQUIRE these abilities. Looking at the faster than light neutrino fiasco of the past year is a perfect example of this. Scientists saw a result that was highly suspect (faster than light speeds), but they were willing to accept it, if it passed enough tests. They were critical of the results, didn’t accept it on face value, they were willing to question the current paradigm (relativistic physics) and the authority of nearly 100 years of work based on that paradigm.

This is also a case of biting the hand that feeds. Texas’s growth has been fueled through science, technology and research at businesses. With Houston as the center of the oil world, which is driven by better science of getting oil out of the ground, new technologies to do so and the research for increasing the conversion rates from crude oil to gasoline and other goods, you’d think that Texas would understand why it’s important to have scientists. While Texas doesn’t have as many Tier 1 research universities as California (3 vs 9) these three are extremely powerful and wealthy. UT is the 3rd richest in the country and Texas A&M is the 10th. They are both research powerhouses in the academic world. Creating policies that negatively impact the education system that feeds these schools is only going to hurt their abilities to compete in the future.

The Texas Republicans also want to “Teach the Controversy” with equal air time for every side of the argument. In this case when they get to evolution I hope the controversy they discuss is the recent disagreement between Evolutionary Biologists Richard Dawkins and EO Wilson, because that’s the biggest one going on in Evolution right now. However, I know this is not what they mean. They plan to teach the “controversy” of creationism in science class. This is as dangerous as not teaching critical thinking.

If you couple the lack of critical thinking with teach the controversy approach, you have a recipe for disaster. You create students that are unable to really understand the differences and take what the teacher believes at face value. If the “biology” teacher is a creationist (which has happened in some states) then they will not adequately teach evolution and the students will not understand why creationism is wrong and evolution is scientifically accurate. They will be unable to critically reason the differences. This is a terrifying prospect.

These are not the only areas that Texas Republicans are showing that they are out of touch with the youth of America. The DailyKOS has further analysis  a lot of the bad policy stances that are coming down the road in Texas from Republicans.