Eccentric Flower:201101/Neut Netrality

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Neut Netrality

Just thought I'd see if y'all were paying attention up there.

I don't one hundred percent agree with The Economist's worldview, but I'm closer to their basic position on capitalism than any other publication's, as far as I can tell. They believe in The Old Hairy Invisible Hand of Adam Smith, but not blindly, because they are also fairly cynical and they know that there are interests among the business sector, the government sector, and the public which would prefer to prevent the Invisible Hand from acting in certain ways and would prefer to encourage it in other ways - and The Economist usually, but not always, posits that such interference is a Bad Idea, no matter what direction it is applied in.

They also seem to (mostly) understand that the Invisible Hand is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to helping the disadvantaged and downtrodden. Frankly, if left to its own devices, the Invisible Hand will screw the downtrodden any chance it gets. I believe that capitalism will always, to an extent, be built on exploitation. I don't think the exploitation necessarily has to always be as bad and as nasty as my grimly socialist wife does; I think there can be such a thing as relatively benign exploitation. So does The Economist. I think sometimes they are a little too blithe about how easily this can be accomplished, how much supervision it requires. While The Economist does not fully trust either corporations or governments (if they did I probably couldn't read it), they do seem to think it is obvious that it's in a company's interest to treat its workers well; I say that to many heads of business, this is far from obvious, and that The Economist tends to somewhat underestimate the extent of corporate tunnel-vision and greed.

Basically, while I appreciate that they are cynical, I sometimes find that they are not quite cynical enough for my taste.

[Long block removed here because it turned into a political-position rant and was not germane, plus it would have gotten me shot.]

Anyway. Net neutrality. The reason this preamble came up is that it strikes me sometimes The Economist practices a particular form of anarcho-capitalism that amuses me no end.

Their basic position on the recent net neutrality legislation package is that it pisses off both the right and the left equally so it can't possibly be that bad - a yardstick I myself have used many times for judging the quality of a compromise.

They also note that, while they agree that a bandwidth provider should not be allowed to interfere actively with the transmission of content, they see nothing wrong with strict metering of bandwidth, nor with companies charging more for premium tiers of service. Gotta say, I'm with them on that too. If you want to provide the Standard Package and the Extra-Fast Package For More Money, you should be allowed to do so.

But all this is a distraction, because the real point of their article is elsewhere:

These details are important, but the noise about them only makes the omission more startling: the failure in America to tackle the underlying lack of competition in the provision of internet access. In other rich countries it would not matter if some operators blocked some sites: consumers could switch to a rival provider. That is because the big telecoms firms with wires into people’s homes have to offer access to their networks on a wholesale basis, ensuring vigorous competition between dozens of providers, with lower prices and faster connections than are available in America. Getting America’s phone and cable companies to open up their networks to others would be a lot harder for politicians than prattling on about neutrality; but it would do far more to open up the net.

Got that? The real problem here is that the Invisible Hand isn't being allowed to do its thing, and that, if necessary, the phone and cable companies should be forced to open up. That is Economist capitalism and I love it: Do the right thing, and capitalism will reward you richly; do the wrong thing and you deserve to get slapped around.

The only issue is that I think a lot of people need slapping around about 25% more often, on average, than they do.


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Joy:

I know very little about these things, but the cable and phone and internet offerings these days remind me of the complaints people had about Ma Bell, and I've wondered if we're due another splintering.

I want to know what you cut out! Shot by whom?

-- 19:12, 4 January 2011 (GMT)


Bunny42:

That's been my question, as well. Whatever happened to Taft-Hartley? Shouldn't the monopolistic cable companies be forced to share their cable lines? Little tiny Lake Worth, FL has its own power company, which is more expensive and will never compete with FPL in terms of service. But Lake Worth residents don't have any choice. They have to use Lake Worthless Power. How can that be, when Taft-Hartley proscribes monopolies? If utilities are exempt, then how was Ma Bell forced to split up?

-- 21:44, 4 January 2011 (GMT)


ProfRobert:

Um, Taft-Hartley was an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act that gave the NLRB power to enjoin unfair labor practices by unions; previously, it could only act against such practicies by employers. You're thinking of the Sherman and Clayton Acts. Public utilities are exempt from them because they are regulated by the states and by the FERC. Oh, and the main federal statute designed to to prevent misconduct by power companies that enjoy legal monopolies, the Public Utilities Holding Companies Act of 1940, was seriously weakened by the Republican Congress and George W. Bush in 2005. But hey, they kept taxes low for millionaires, so you can't really complain, right?

-- 06:12, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


Bunny42:

Robert, okay, I've slipped a cog, today. I knew Sherman. Where I dredged up Taft-Hartley I'll never know. But I did not know that the states regulated utilities. So it's up to the state legislature to decide whether Comcast has to share its lines? If I wanted cable (which I violently don't) I have no choice but Comcast. Same with power, land line phone service, etc. I understand that the companies put the money into the initial investment in cables, power lines, all of that. But they could charge for usage, couldn't they? Bell showed that it can be done. Not everyone is pleased with the result, but the fact remains that smaller phone companies can exist, using Bell phone lines. We've already established that I'm an idiot, but tell me why it would be different for cable. What's the advantage to the state to limit competition? Could it be as simple as huge lobbies, backed by serious money from us rich folks?

Also, what makes you think I'm a millionaire? Seriously?

-- 07:34, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


ProfRobert:

Bunny, first, I don't think you're an idiot. I disagree with you about a number of things, but since *I* am not an idiot, I don't equate "disagreement" with "idiocy on the other side." Frankly, anyone whom I do consider an idiot, I simply won't engage with. No understanding is improved, and it "merely annoys the pig," as they say. I engage with you because you are (as I hope I am) genuinely interested in discussion and expanding one's knowledge. Also, it's fun to tease you (you missed the sarcastic teasing in my millionaire's line, though!).

Now, as for Taft-Hartley/Sherman-Clayton -- I have brain farts all the time. No worries. I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.

Cable companies are regulated by the state and by the FCC, not by FERC -- it's the Federal Communications Act, not PUCHA, that is at issue there. I'm not a communications law guy, so I'm going by gut here, not actual knowledge, but I think the issue is exactly what the FCC will require in terms of traffic regulation and what the providers can and can't do. I don't think the monopoly issue is as prevalent in the internet realm -- there's the phone company and the cable company, at a minimum, even if there's only one of each of them in your locality, and likely there is more than one phone company. (In Manhattan, for example, there are two cable companies, Time Warner and RCN, along with various satellite providers.) So competition there should be pretty good, and if it isn't, it may be a geographic issue.

Finally, as to your cable situation, I just don't know. It's possible that you really only have one option, but in my uniformed view, a satellite provider is in the same business. Again, in New York I see all kinds of wars between Time Warner and various satellite providers, so at least *they* seem to think they're in competition!

-- 18:39, 5 January 2011 (GMT)

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