This article at Reason.com about Net Neutrality is probably the best article I have ever read on the subject. I can’t sum it all up, and I urge you to read it all — but here is a nice excerpt describing part of the problem:
[E]ven without government’s guiding hand, neutrality has long been an organizing principle of the Net. The engineers who first started connecting computers to one another decades ago embraced as a first-cut rule for directing Internet traffic the “end-to-end principle”-a component of network architecture design holding that the network itself should interfere as little as possible with traffic flowing from one end-user to another. Yet the idea that this network “intelligence” should reside only at the ends of the network, has never been—and could never be—an absolute. Effective network management has always required prominent exceptions to the end-to-end principle.
Not all bits are created equal, as the designers of those first Internet software protocols recognized. Some bits are more time-sensitive than others. Some bits need to arrive at their destination in sequence, while others can turn up in any order. For instance, live streaming video, interactive gaming, and VoIP calls won’t work if the data arrive out of order or with too much delay between data packets. But email, software updates, and even downloaded videos don’t require such preferential treatment-they work as long as all the bits eventually end up where they’re supposed to go.
Anticipating the needs of future real-time applications, early Internet engineers developed differentiated services (“DiffServ”) and integrated services (“IntServ”) protocols, which have discriminated among types of Internet traffic for decades. The effect on less time-sensitive applications has gone virtually unnoticed. Does anyone really care if their email shows up a few milliseconds “late”?
But these are engineering prioritizations, and they come without an associated price mechanism. As a result, there’s little incentive for anyone to mark these packets accurately: In the face of network congestion, everyone wants the highest priority as long as it’s free.
Here, as throughout the economy, prices would make everyone reveal the value they place on a transaction, thereby allocating scarce resources efficiently. An Internet characterized by business prioritization, offering fast and slow lanes for purchase by end-users or content providers, could make all applications work better, significantly increasing consumer satisfaction while also promoting broadband adoption and deployment.
Wait, what? A price mechanism might allocate resources in the most efficient manner? Tell that to Chief Central Water Controller Jerry Brown! (But that’s another post, one I’m probably too weary to write. Anyway, the people at IBD.com already wrote everything I wanted to say about California water restrictions anyway.) Back to the Reason.com Net Neutrality article, the authors make the point that, if there is lack of competition, the problem (as usual) is government:
In fact, the real competitive constraints are usually imposed by local government franchise regulations, including the imposition of substantial build-out requirements and restrictions on broadband providers’ access to government-owned utility poles.
Read it all. Ted Cruz called Net Neutrality “ObamaCare for the Internet” — a quote that future Salon.com writer SEK, whom I blocked on Facebook tonight, mocked as being stupid, but was actually genius. Cruz was right. As the Reason.com folks say: “No decent person, in other words, should be for net neutrality.”
The fact that many decent people are just means they’re misguided, of course, and not indecent — but their ignorance is getting harder and harder to excuse.