Net neutrality is causing a fuss lately. A recent FCC ruling would allow the large internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge more for a faster lane. To those opposing the ruling, it’s the end of the internet as we know it and all consumers and smaller content providers face life in the slow lane, bumping along a tired little dirt track while those with deep pockets zoom by on the freeway. Large content providers like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are also against the ruling. The trouble is, those opposing the recent ruling — the FCC split along party lines with Democrats for and Republicans against — is they fall into two very distinct camps: those who want less regulation and those who want to turn the internet into a utility to ensure equal access for all. The Republicans on the commision felt it had overstepped it’s jurisdictional limits, intruding into what should be the prerogative of Congress and that regulations should be kept to a minimum. The tech utopians, on the other hand, want all sorts of regulation to ensure that we all get treated fairly by that enormous, diverse, sprawling tangle of networks.

So will most of us users get “pushed onto the internet dirt road” in the words of Craig Aaron, president of Free Press? In the first place, one wonders if it will be more a case of the telcos building those fast lanes right to your front door, when perhaps you just want a one laner to browse on bird watching in the Gulf Coast for example. Another compelling argument is raised by Timothy Lee in a paper he wrote a few years ago and is available at the Cato Institute’s website. He states that the intelligence and the functionality of the internet resides in it’s end users. The hubs and fiber-optic lines owned by a Comcast or Verizon are just not able to control decisions made by millions of their customers with their laptops or tablets or PC’s. They call it the end to end principle and the internet’s short and explosive history is full of examples of how powerful it is. So maybe Comcast and Verizon should go ahead and build those fast lanes, (assuming the FCC ruling is not overturned in court), and see just who ends up benefiting. Remember, the internet has never been a stagnant, zero-sum game, and after they build those expensive new lanes, you never know who will show up to play, or even enjoy a free ride.

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