The battle for net neutrality is a difficult one to sort out because it’s effective oligarchs arguing with other oligarchs. Oligarchs that hold actual monopoly in many areas to distribute Internet content want the ability to suck more money out of both customers and service providers. These oligarchs own much of the infrastructure and claim that they have a right to use it as they please since it is their property. What they don’t mention is that they have legal protections from other oligarchs that prevent any meaningful competition from arising in the Internet content distribution market.
The other set of oligarchs are the ones that compose the legislature and regulatory bodies. It’s an election year for many in the legislature so they want to convince the serfs that their rulers are very benevolent and should be vote in for another term. Since the serfs are quite fond of the current model used to distribute Internet content the oligarchs in the legislature are demanding the model stay in place. The regulatory body most involved in this fight, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stuck between both sides. Its current chairman, Tom Wheeler, is a form lobbyist for the infrastructure oligarchs but he also wants to continue his position as chairman of the FCC, which means he must also make the oligarchs in the legislature happy.
Fortunately when competing sects of the oligarchy go to war they don’t use bombs. Instead they negotiate with one another to determine how much which sect will pay to get its way:
These lawmakers, including the top House leadership, warned the FCC that regulating broadband like a public utility “harms” providers, would be “fatal to the Internet,” and could “limit economic freedom.”
According to research provided Friday by Maplight, the 28 House members received, on average, $26,832 from the “cable & satellite TV production & distribution” sector over a two-year period ending in December. According to the data, that’s 2.3 times more than the House average of $11,651.
What’s more, one of the lawmakers who told the FCC that he had “grave concern” (PDF) about the proposed regulation took more money from that sector than any other member of the House. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) was the top sector recipient, netting more than $109,000 over the two-year period, the Maplight data shows.
The infrastructure oligarchs obviously feel very strongly about being able to change their current distribution model because they are paying a good chunk of change to key oligarchs in the legislature. I predict an end to what we call net neutrality in the near future (probably not until the next election cycle or two have concluded though). It will be a slow death consisting of apparently minor changes over the coming years.
If we want to continue enjoying a distribution model that is neutral towards service providers then we will likely have to cut out the infrastructure oligarchs entirely. That will involve building our own infrastructure, which will almost certainly be declared an illegal act at some point. I’ve mentioned several times that I’m working with a handful of other people in the Twin Cities to develop a local mesh network with the hopes of expanding it over time. I think mesh networks, being decentralized (and therefore hard to stop through the judicial and law enforcement systems), are a promising strategy for bypassing the Internet service providers that are trying to double dip by charging both content consumers and content providers more money to access one another. The Chaos Computer Club’s idea to launch small satellites into orbit to bypass state censorship also appeals to me. Between all of us who dwell online would should be able to develop a practical solution to the oligarchy problem.