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Regulation of Communications (Net Neutrality) · Friday May 23, 2008 by Crosbie Fitch

The crusade for network regulation in the name of neutrality moves on apace and collects an ever larger entourage of concerned, but misled citizens.

People are misled, because they imagine that ‘neutrality’ means that their communications must be treated irrespective of content and communicants.

What neutrality actually means is that whatever communications are permitted must be treated irrespective of content and communicants.

Enforcement of neutrality means that the state will regulate what communication is permitted and regulate ISPs to ensure it is treated neutrally.

Thus it’s quite possible for certain communications to be denied because of their content (copyright infringing content) or their communicants (sites known for sedition or obscenity, WiFi points open to the public, etc.).

What no-one will point out to those believing that neutrality means ‘uncontrolled’ is that the logical conclusion to such a naive understanding of network neutrality is copyright abolition (since an uncontrolled Internet is fundamentally an uncontrolled copying and instantaneous diffusion machine). Unfortunately, the champions of regulated neutrality have as their sponsors those interested in any regulation, simply to get their foot in the door to regulate the Internet communications that threaten their traditional business models. The last thing they want to happen is neutralisation of copyright (heaven forfend its consequent abolition).

So, despite citizens believing net neutrality is in line with their aspiration to communicate without interference, the sponsors of net neutrality are not actually interested in emancipating the people from controls over their communication at all.

I therefore cannot support the idea of letting regulators cross the threshold to ensure people can exchange anything they can legitimately exchange at the QoS they paid for. Because then, instead of the ISPs selling off preferential treatment, the regulators will enforce egalitarian and copyright respectful treatment (and inevitably, that the communications themselves are also respectful of the state).

It’s like inviting a pack of wolves in to keep the foxes under control.

What would be far better would be to regulate the market of communications providers, ensuring it is competitive, than to regulate communications providers themselves. After all, ISPs couldn’t start offering preferential treatment to publishers if their otherwise captive and suffering customers could find alternative ISPs that sold a non-preferential service.

Never mind. Pandora’s box is open.

We’ll see how the great struggle for free speech and cultural liberty turns out in the next few years:

  • People want to freely communicate, subject to each other’s natural rights (life, privacy, truth).
  • Governments and publishing corporations want control over communications channels (including the communications they permit).

It’s people vs state+corporations. I think the former has the edge, but it’s probably a close call.



 

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