The net neutrality agreement: do we think that’s really the end of it?

So, that net neutrality thing. Pretty exciting, huh?

Um. On a scale of watching grass grow to starring in a live Superbowl commercial while watching the game from your favorite team’s sideline, this ranks around pairing up socks in the laundry room, except with more keyboard-face. Stacy McCain called it the World’s Most Boring Policy Issue. He may well be right.

Still. As someone who spends a significant amount of time online; who instinctively distrusts phrases like “FCC rules” and “Congressional oversight;” who looks forward to the day when nanobots flowing through my brain remove the need for such inconveniences as “computers” and “phones,” I find the prospect of government involvement… concerning.

Seems like something I should understand better. So. Coffee up, people. We’re talking net neutrality.

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I’ll throw a joke in. Keep reading.

In a nutshell, “net neutrality” means: internet service providers like Google and Verizon can’t discriminate regarding content. No favoring one kind of traffic over another; or one content provider over another. Unlike a grocery store, where products compete for the best places on the shelf, all products have to be treated equally.

Proponents say we need it, otherwise the internet will become a more evil version of Wal-Mart. Opponents say that competition and demand will suffice to keep the internet free and “neutral.”

The FCC announced their power to regulate, which made many internetizens vomit green and turn their heads three hundred sixty degrees. Congress said slow down, let’s talk this over. There was a Supreme Court ruling in there, somewhere.

Bottom line: the onset of government regulation seems unavoidable. I know. You’re really surprised.

Enter Google and Verizon: two major players, which stood on opposite sides of the issue. They got together and hammered out an agreement. A “legislative framework.” A compromise. For frightened pro-regulators, a little bit of Daddy Government to make them feel safe at night. For angry just-stay-out-of-my-way-ers…

…well, nothing. Nothing, except a temporary reprieve from even greater government regulation.

Temporary. And that’s only if Congress and the FCC go along with it.

The agreement does several things. It delineates what areas are subject to “net neutrality” and what areas (like wireless broadband) aren’t. It outlines FCC authority. And, thankfully, it’s only two pages long.

Yeah, fine. Better that, I suppose, than just letting Congress do it. But it’s hard, really, to take the agreement seriously, for two reasons:

  • It’s not the law.

It has no force behind it. It’s just a suggestion. Congress will still have to legislate; the FCC will still have to write, and then enforce rules. There’s no guarantee either will do what Google and Verizon suggest, and even less that they’ll stop where Google and Verizon say.

  • Even if it becomes law, it’ll only be the first law.

By agreeing to some legislation, you concede the principle that Congress and the FCC have the authority to legislate and regulate. Yeah, I know: that battle was lost a long time ago. Still. Legislation and regulation never pull back, and they never sit still. Onward and upward: that’s the standard. To believe that this instance is somehow exempt is simply ridiculous.

Hey, I’m no anti-government purist. Legislation and regulation have a role. But that role should be tapped as infrequently as possible. As a last resort. Our default position should be: just let it alone.

But, the internet is big. It’s important. It’s making a lot of people a lot of money. Government involvement is a foregone conclusion, and this agreement — if accepted — will only slow that involvement down.

The good news is: if this ever impacts me and my modest internet needs directly, I won’t know it. Any impact on me will be of omission: the innovation that went unrealized; the invention that simply never happened. I can’t miss what I never knew was possible.

And I’ll admit: I don’t know everything. About this issue, in particular. It’s broad, complex, and, yes, boring. Maybe Google really is evil. Maybe big corporations really will stifle the growth of the very product that made them rich in the first place.

Still, when it comes to choosing Wal-Mart or government…Wal-Mart delivers immense amounts of goods to immense numbers of people, who can afford more because Wal-Mart does it so cheaply. Government gave us Obamacare.

I’ll take Wal-Mart, thanks. And I’ll take my chances with net non-neutrality.

Cross posted at The TrogloPundit.

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