Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why I'm Against Net Neutrality

President Obama expressed his strong support for net neutrality during his visit to China the other day.  Here, briefly, is why I disagree.

First of all, I see any attempt to regulate non-criminal communication in the United States, via the FCC or otherwise, as a violation of the First Amendment, which says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging freedom of speech or press".   I think this prohibition must be taken seriously, lest we slide into societies such as the one in China, where media are controlled by the government.  This means the FCC should keep its hands off media even when their actions would support or enable good things.

But I don't think net neutrality is a good thing.  How many people watch movies and television shows on Netflix?   These statistics say 36 million Americans use Netflix in one way or another, and 63 percent of Americans use Netflix to stream.   How do you feel, when you're streaming a movie or television show on Netflix, when the movie freezes or the connection is lost?    Smoother streaming is what favored access on the Internet is all about.   Note that it would not lock out any person or IP.   It would just give better service to organizations like Netflix and Amazon, which serve millions and millions of people.

Favored, smoother streaming would also help mega-Internet providers such as Verizon and Comcast, which has led some people to say that unless we have net neutrality, big corporations will further dominate communication and media, and thereby American life.    But in our current configuration, huge corporations already dominate our media - traditional media, whether Viacom or Comcast, already have massive power and control over what we're able to see, and when we see it.   Streaming gives people another option - a greater choice over what they see, with more specific options - and, certainly, competition is good for the consumer of television and movies. Net neutrality would weaken this competition, by making Netflix and Amazon less effective.  The result would serve not consumers, but traditional media giants. 

Just to be clear: I would vigorously oppose any attempt to block anyone's access to the Internet, including charging people for that access.  But net neutrality is not needed to maintain those freedoms - and, indeed, it could impede them, by bolstering the corporations that emerged well before the current Internet, don't yet completely understand it, and therefore still stand in the way of the democratization of media that the Internet brings.

Netflix and Amazon  may well say they are in favor of net neutrality, because they would like to have smoother streaming - favored positioning in the Internet - without having to pay for it.   That makes sense in the short run, for any business - keep your expenses down.  But, in the long run, the revolution that Netflix and Amazon are spearheading will benefit from the advantage their programming gives consumers - in comparison to what consumers get from content on the cable providers - whatever Netflix and Amazon have to pay for this.   Net neutrality might save Netflix and Amazon some money today, but it will hinder their growth in the future - as well as other potential content providers such as Google and Apple - by keeping their streaming and content provision at speeds that could be faster and more reliable, and thus more attractive to consumers.


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