Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge has a long and thoughtful piece
on net neutrality, written largely in response to a column I wrote on the issue
for the Spectator, as well as to a Washington Times piece written by Dick Armey, the chairman of FreedomWorks (where I work). Brodsky claims that what's at stake is
nothing less than "freedom," and, naturally, that freedom's on his
side. Well, I (obviously) beg to differ. So as much as I'd love it if we could
all be Mel Gibson from Braveheart, riding around with
war-paint making stirring speeches about liberty, I suspect that our views just
aren't compatible on this.
The main thing I'd take issue with is his characterization
of the net as a public utility. He says
that it's "well established that private property is subject to the
law." That hardly, however, addresses whether or not it should be. And just because private property is subject to some law doesn't mean it's subject to
any and all laws — it's not a free pass for whatever regulation can be dreamed
Brodsky also takes issue with the characterization of
wireless networks as "private networks."
It is privately owned network, but
that’s different. A private network is what a company might have to connect its
employees. Wireless has 65.2 million retail customers. That would be some
humongous private network.
But the fact that it offers customers the opportunity to pay
for some use of its property doesn't suddenly mean it gives up rights to make
decisions about how that property is used. Think of a large retailer doing business on private property. Like a
wireless network, it's privately owned. And like a wireless network, it allows
the public to come into its store and make use of its property. But by doing
so, the store doesn't suddenly become a public utility; they can still throw
customers out for making trouble, deny them entry if they seem suspicious, and/or refuse to sell particular items if they think doing so will, for some reason, ultimately be better for business. That
doesn't mean they should – and you'll notice that smart retailers rarely do so
– but nor does it mean that these businesses should be legally prohibited from such activity.
And that speaks to my final point, which is that Brodsky
seems to assume that all of us who oppose neutrality mandates think neutrality
is, plain and simple, a bad thing. That's simply not the case. Neutrality is,
in most cases, a good thing, and if my ISP were to suddenly stop allowing
access to my favorite websites, I'd be on the phone complaining in an instant –
but to my ISP, not to a Congressman. Because it's there – in the market, not on
the floor of Congress – that these debates ought to be solved.