Why Net Neutrality and "Open" Internet Mandates are Bad for Consumers
Left wing groups spend a lot of time making false doomsday predictions about the “end of the Internet.” Judgment Day supposedly nears the more “closed” the Internet becomes; the more individuals and businesses can decide how their applications, services, or content are restricted from use on other networks or devices. The left’s demigod, Jonathan Zittrain, coined the term “generativity” for the degree to which the Internet and its devices and applications are “open.” In his and the left’s ideal world, anyone can create anything anywhere.
Take Android vs. the iPhone. Android accepts all applications (labeled as “good” by the left), while Apple sets rules for developers and even rejects some apps on its iPhone. The left laments this more “closed” system, even if apps are rejected for safety and reliability reasons. The “open-closed” debate is also at the core of FCC’s Net Neutrality and Title II reclassification proceeding. The Commission – led by left wing “open” advocates – want to prevent Internet service providers from managing traffic on their networks (amongst other things), which they view as a step toward making it more “closed.” The FCC’s last questionnaire also hinted that wireless providers shouldn’t be able to restrict certain apps on their network (see our comments here).
Today, Gizmodo ran a story highlighting exactly why a mandated, purely “open” Internet is bad for consumers. According to a recent FCC filing, T-Mobile service in a city was severely degraded when a popular Android-based instant messaging application required such high capacity that it overloaded the cellular network, causing congestion for every other user. A few take-aways:
First, government mandating any “open” or “closed” structure for the Internet is a disastrous idea, particularly for consumers. Left-wing groups label themselves as “consumer advocates,” but this highlights just how much they really care about consumers. Net Neutrality/Title II would force all Internet providers to treat data equally, a seemingly nice idea until congestion from one bad actor slows or shuts down your Internet service. Instead, service providers manage the flow of data on their networks, increasing efficiency and speed while preventing congestion for all.
Second, this highlights a difference between wired and wireless networks. The application mentioned above worked fine on a wired network, but not on a wireless network, which has less capacity and significantly more variables that can impact service. The FCC is rightly pondering no regulations on wireless for this exact reason. Wireless shouldn’t be regulated, but then neither should wired networks, so they can compete with one another for investment and consumers.
Finally, left wing groups bounce around Washington, D.C. demanding that politicians and bureaucrats at the FCC mandate an “open” Internet. But you don’t see center-right groups demanding a “closed” Internet (even though forcing Android to adhere some “closed” app restrictions like Apple could have potentially headed off this problem).
Instead, the best solution is for the free market to fix these problems. If “open” and “closed” systems are allowed to compete next to one another, they can correct each other’s rare but natural flaws. In the case mentioned above, T-Mobile reached out to the application developer, who fixed the coding in the app to cause less strain on the wireless network. But if it had crashed their network altogether, under the left’s Net Neutrality rules the wireless provider could not have slowed the application bogging down the network to ensure service continued working for everyone else. Worse, the FCC is even toying with the idea of removing the ability for wireless providers to decide what devices can connect to their networks – again destructively mandating “openness.”
The Internet is innovative and thriving because a balance has been created between “open” and “closed” systems in the free market. Only government mandates and regulations can change it for the worse.