Net Neutrality Regulation => Online Product/Service Definitions => Online Taxation
Adam Thierer and I have warned that neutrality regulation, once imposed on broadband providers, will extend to other Internet services wherever "gatekeepers" are alleged to control access to a platform used by others. In short, the slippery slope of creeping common carriage is real and we're already heading down it, with cyber-collectivist "luminaries" like Jonathan Zittrain and Frank Pasquale demanding neutrality regulation for devices, application platforms like iTunes and Facebook, and search!
Regulation of any service, product or industry is preceded by definition. Once defined, it is subject to taxation.
[Net Neutrality regulation] is a prelude to taxation of Internet products and services. It will likely start with telephony services and proceed accordingly to financial services, and continue from there.
As such, the activity is essentially neutral insofar as technology innovation is concerned -- so long as applicable taxes are paid the government will ensure that the service is not disfavored by the network operators.
Absolutely right! One of the greatest barriers to government regulation and taxation of the Internet today is the lack of clear definitions: The FCC rules will tell you precisely what "cable television" or "commercial radio" mean, but the concepts of "social networking," "Internet video," "blogging," and even "search" are indeterminate and constantly evolving.
Ronald Reagan once quipped:
Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
Fortunately, government's ability to implement this view depends--to paraphrase President Clinton--"on what the meaning of the word 'is' 'it' is": Allowing "it" to remain beautifully amorphous may be the best way to keep government at bay.
Humbling the Mighty: How the Internet's Media Abundance Killed the News Embargo
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles;
[The Lord] hath put down the mighty from their seats [of power] and raised up the lowly.
The Internet continues to humble the mighty in journalism. We hear a lot about the humbling of news outlets like the New York Times, but little about the humbling of news-makers. While the media reformistas would have us believe that dark, shadowy forces control what we hear, see and read, the reality is that it's becoming increasingly impossible for even the world's largest companies to "manage" stories because we live in an age of true media abundance. There's no better sign of this than the fact that Michael Arrington has declared, with good reason, the "news embargo" dead. In the days of media scarcity (which the reformistas like Andrew Keen want to re-create), press releases often declared a story to be "embargoed" until a specific day and time, allowing companies to shape the story by planting releases with the "right" journalists ahead of time. Such embargoes have been breaking down for some time, but now, with the explosion of media abundance, even Google no longer has "the clout to force press to stick to embargoes."
It's not my favorite recording but this clip of Bach's "Magnificat" (BWV 243) should sear into your brain the irrepressibility of the Internet as the greatest leveling force since the invention of the printing press. The two are not unrelated: Bach's Lutheranism was made possible only by the ready availability of the printed word.
The Washington Post Slams Net Neutrality Regulation
The Post, hardly a bastion of radical cyber-libertarianism, has come out strongly against FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's plans to have the FCC issue "Net Neutrality" regulations. The editorial asks the critical threshold question we crazy cyber-libertarians always insist on:
Is this intervention necessary?
Mr. Genachowski claims to have seen "breaks and cracks" in the Internet that threaten to change the "fundamental architecture of openness." He and other proponents of federal involvement cite a handful of cases they say prove that, left to their own devices, ISPs... will choke the free flow of information and technology. One example alluded to by the chairman: Comcast's blocking an application by BitTorrent that would allow peer-to-peer video sharing. Yet that conflict was ultimately resolved by the two companies -- without FCC intervention -- after Comcast's alleged bad behavior was exposed by a blogger.
Thus, the FCC oppposes pre-emptive regulation that would "prohibit ISPs from 'discriminating against' different applications," noting that this would mean that "ISPs, which have poured billions of dollars into building infrastructure, would have little control -- if any -- over the kinds of information and technology flowing through their pipes."
Three cheers for the Post for recognizing both the property rights of ISPs in their networks and the fact that, even with Genachowski's "slight concession" to allow "managed services in limited circumstances... unneeded regulation could still interfere with [ISPs] ability to manage bandwidth-hogging applications that can hamper service, especially during peak times." Instead, the Post called for simple transparency, supporting a requirement that "ISPs be candid with the agency and the public about network management practices. The last paragraph hits the ball out of the park:
Mr. Genachowski claims that the FCC "will do as much as we need to do, and no more, to ensure that the Internet remains an unfettered platform for competition, creativity and entrepreneurial activity." He will advance this goal by insisting on transparency; he will jeopardize it -- and stifle further investments by ISPs -- with attempts to micromanage what has been a vibrant and well-functioning marketplace.
Amen! The Post is about as "mainstream" as it gets in American journalism, so their strong opposition really underscores that preemptive "net neutrality" regulation isn't the popular cause some in Washington think it is. It is simply infrastructure socialism.
To facilitate a dialogue between NGOs campaigning to protect respectively, child protection and children's rights online, and freedom of speech and other civil liberties online.
To promote a better understanding of each others' positions, to share perspectives and information with a view to identifying areas of common ground and areas of disagreement.
To identify any shared policy goals, and possible tools to support the achievement of those goals.
To publicize the findings of the forum in international policy debates about Internet governance and regulation.
Conference participants were asked to submit a 2-3 pg summary of their views on a couple of questions that will be discussed at this event. I have listed those questions, and my answers, down below the fold. It's my best attempt to date to succinctly outline my views about how to balance content concerns and free speech issues going forward.
This kind of comparison should dispel once and for all the myth of a popular groundswell for net neutrality regulation--especially since online search volumes heavily over-represent the interests of the digerati, thus over-stating general interest in web-related topics.
In fact, "Net Neutrality" regulation is a niche cause trumpeted incessantly by the blogosphere with about the same level of broad popular interest online as "housing rights"--a topic about which most of us probably don't often fall into conversation (unless we happen to live in Bakuninist Berkeley or the Bolivarian Caliphate of Cambridge, MA, ground-zero of American Chavismo). "Net neutrality" currently seems to attract about the same level of interest as the term "end the Fed," the title of Rep. Ron Paul's call for abolishing America's central bank--something I've been ranting about for years but which, until recently, most people found about as bizarre and irrelevant as my (sincere) insistence that President Jefferson should have obtained a constitutional amendment rather than simply assuming the power to execute the Louisiana Purchase.
So just how much do Americans care about Net Neutrality? About 83% as much as they care about "kibble," which usually refers to the ground meat used in dog food and other forms of animal feed--but about fifty times less than about "dog food."
Finally, since we all write a lot about privacy, "online privacy" gets 1% as many searches as "privacy." "Internet privacy" and "privacy Internet" each get about 4% as many searches as "privacy," for a total of about 9% as many searches as "privacy" or about three times as many searches as "net neutrality." Americans seem to be far more concerned about "identity theft," which gets 30% as many searches as "privacy"--or 3.33 times more than the three online-privacy terms mentioned above. This is consistent with Tom Leonard and Paul Rubin's findings that identity theft, not online data collection for advertising purposes, is the real harm facing consumers, and regulating online data collection and use in the name of "protecting privacy" isn't likely to benefit consumers, while the costs to consumers from such regulations are likely to be significant, as Adam Thierer and I have noted here, here, here, here and here.
Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin used to refer to commercial alternatives to NASA's Ares rockets as "Paper Rockets," but commercial vehicles like Atlas V, Delta IV and Falcon 1 are quite real and available today, while Ares 1 and 5 are grossly over-budget and way behind-schedule:
NASA should buy commercial space services whenever possible from NewSpace companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace. The Commercial Spaceflight Revolution is happening now!
argued that innovation is at the heart of economic progress. It gives new businesses a chance to replace old ones, but it also dooms those new businesses to fail unless they can keep on innovating (or find a powerful government patron). In his most famous phrase he likened capitalism to a "perennial gale of creative destruction".
For Schumpeter the people who kept this gale blowing were entrepreneurs. He was responsible for popularising the word itself, and for identifying the entrepreneur's central function: of moving resources, however painfully, to areas where they can be used more productively. But he also recognised that big businesses can be as innovative as small ones, and that entrepreneurs can arise from middle management as well as college dorm-rooms.
Schumpeter's work on the dynamism of high-tech markets (later married with Clayton Christensen's concept of "disruptive innovation") is one of the most persistent themes across cyber-libertarian thinking of all stripes on a wide variety of issues. You can listen to an interview with the new column's author on the Economist podcast here (MP3). One important point the author makes is that Schumpeter realized that celebrating capitalism did not preclude criticizing individual capitalists when justified and vice versa--something all too often forgotten today.
The Changing Face of News Media: HuffPo v. WSJ v. WashPo v. NYTimes
Google Trends for websites reveals all kinds of fascinating insights into the way technology is reshaping the world. Among them is the fact that the HuffingtonPost.com has matured from a scruffy group blog into a new media powerhouse to rival the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post:
Note that the convergence of these three sites has happened both because HuffPo has doubled its audience and because the audience for the WashingtonPost.com has shrunk by half. While WSJ.com's audience has returned to roughly its pre-election level, the decline of NYTimes.com suggests that the Internet really is splintering audiences and bringing the giants of news media like the "Gray Lady" down from their once unassailable heights: