February 28th, 2008
For reasons relating to my voting research, I generally don’t make political blog posts. I don’t see wanting secure and usable voting machines as a partisan issue, but I know that some people do, so I try to stay away from politics in my blog.
Here I’m going to make an exception. Again, I don’t see this as a partisan issue, and while I’m sure that many do, I really hope policy-makers can rise above the partisan fray here.
I just cannot see the logic behind ending net neutrality. I guess the leading argument has something to do with “free markets.” And while there are often occasions, where that’s a good argument, this is not one of them. The telecom market is not a free marketplace! First, all the basic R&D and infrastructure supporting the relevant market was paid for with public money. Yes, the telcos have put their own money into it since then, but the fact remains that without the public money at the beginning, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place.
Second, the telcos are effectively regulated monopolies and these markets aren’t really “free” at all. The barrier to entry in these markets is enormous. At my home, I have the “choice” of a whole whopping two broadband providers; DSL through SB, err, AT&T, and cable modem via Comcast. Except that I cannot bundle this with my phone service, because Comcast doesn’t do VOIP to me (I don’t know why). So, really, I have one choice. How is that a competitive marketplace?
What’s interesting about this is that European markets—you know, Europe, that den of free-market everything, like medicine—is they’re actually much more competitive in telco services. I was just in London and I regularly saw ads for probably five different broadband providers, and if you live in the U.S., you would not believe the prices and the service levels offered. 20 megabit fiber for less than I pay for 3 megabit DSL. (This is particularly amazing since everything else in London was much more expensive than here at home, and this would be true even if the dollar weren’t in the toilet.)
Mobile phone service was like this as well. In most of the U.S., there are four choices: Verizon, SprintNextel, T-Mobile, and AT&T. There are easily twice that many across the pond, and the service plans are much cheaper. (I think I saw an ad for 1000 peak minutes/month with unlimited SMS for £15/month, which is about $30). Pre-paid is much more popular there, too, and you couldn’t walk two blocks in London without finding a place where you could buy more minutes for your service. So maybe there is something to that competition thing—I wish we had it here.
So, maybe repealing net neutrality could work in Europe where there is a much freer market. Except that I think the Europeans wouldn’t stand for giving providers the authority to block or slow down traffic they didn’t like.
And, frankly, neither should we. Save the Internet, support Net Neutrality. I’ve written my representative, have you?