Net Neutrality, Antritrust, and the Little Guy

Interesting post by @fmanjoo on net neutrality here. I mostly agree with the points made by Bret Swanson towards the end:

[T]he new rules would not permit unfair practices. If Google, Facebook or some other giant offered a broadband company millions to block a rival’s service, Mr. Swanson said that could trigger antitrust investigations and other negative consequences for the behemoth.
“The basic antitrust and competition laws will still be applicable, and so companies couldn’t just exclude rivals in this way,” he said.

Huge +1 to that. Net neutrality seems like the wrong solution to a real problem to me. If telecoms start leveraging their pipes to give priority to their own content, that’s unfair competition, and is already largely covered by existing antitrust laws.

The same principle also applies to their other customers: today, telcos are already forbidden to collude with other companies, and offer them preferential, exclusive prices to get this priority access.

However

Something’s Gotta Give

This does not mean that nobody should get priority access, ever.

Priority access is just the good ol’ law of supply and demand, applied to bandwidth. The fact is, storage capacity, and our willingness to consume very large amounts of data (thanks to our pocket-4K-screens, and soon AR glasses) are increasing at a far greater pace than bandwidth. The pipes just aren’t growing as fast as our appetite for what’s going through them is. Something’s gotta give.

Imagine you’re in New York, getting an open-heart teleoperation from a top notch surgeon in Milan. Would you really want the operation’s video to stutter, just because the neighbor wants to watch 3D 360º 8K porn? Don’t you think you’d be willing to pay a lot more for your bits to pass flawlessly, than the 3D 8K porn amateur next door? Don’t you think you should at least be allowed to make this bid? Because net neutrality regulations legally forbid you to. “All bits are born equal”, those laws say, whether they’re part of a porn video or of a man’s open-heart surgery.

The Little Guy

Now, to another point made by Manjoo in this article: allowing people to pay for priority delivery of their bits would further entrench incumbents, adding yet another advantage to the list of what their money can buy. And, no doubt, express loading of pages is a strong competitive advantage, one big companies are already investing heavily in.

I’m not arguing this fact, but I wonder: so what? Should we outlaw the selling of anything that could result in, horror! People with money having a competitive advantage? If some bits are more valuable than other (as measured by how much one is willing to pay for their fast delivery, and so, presumably, how effectively they can monetize them), shouldn’t they be delivered first? Aren’t those bits delivering, on average, more value than the other ones, and contributing more to the economy?

My take: we should let supply and demand do its job, and decide who gets priority access to a limited amount of bandwidth, as for any other scarce resource. Yes, it may give an advantage to big players, and that’s half the point: let the ones creating the most value get priority access.

As for abuses, antitrust laws already exist, and should be applied. If they’re not, maybe that’s the problem that should be tackled, but given our regulations’ half-life, I’m very dubious about enacting solutions we know are not the right ones. It would the legal equivalent of tech debt, but even less likely to be repaid, and with much steeper interest rates.

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