The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth
May 4, 2006 8:34 AM   Subscribe

1000 Angry Monkeys, Blogging About Politics... The partisan political blogosphere has been humming along nicely for the last several years. But where the progressive and conservative ideologies intersect, at technology, they can possibly be best categorized as libertarian, particularly if limited to the development, growth, corporatization, regulation, and taxation of the internet. As such, there's much news worthy of our attention. More inside...
posted by rzklkng (21 comments total)
Politicians would be well served by listening to the war drums being beaten by their constituencies over the various proposals on the Hill, and the mostly skeptical if not antagonistic buzz that they are generating online. The "Communications, Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006," authored by two senators, both max porkers, Ted Stevens and Daniel Inyoue seeks to reinstate the audio and video broadcast flag, require VOIP traffic to be identifiable, and effectively eliminate analog televisions in a year's time. You can read more here, and you can track the bills progress, sponsorship, and legislative histories of the representatives, and their campaign finances at

The FCC is similarly considering enforcement of a ruling mandating that colleges and universities will have to comply with the provision of backdoors into their networks to US Spy Agencies in compliance with the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) wiretapping law, with an impact to be passed on to students of $400-500, as reported in Network Pipeline by Preston Gralla. This will in essence be a wiretap tax, which will end up making the consumer pay for the mechanisms that may result in violations of their own privacy.

Compound this with the certain-defeat of the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 by elected representatives in the pockets of industry, signals of Congressional intent to legislate mandatory internet data retention (you know, to protect the kids) as well as the government stonewall on the scope and reach of the AT&T-NSA domestic spying scandal, one finds plenty of reasons for internet activists to read up, stand up, and take action.

posted by rzklkng at 8:35 AM on May 4, 2006

While I'm 100% for net neutrality, I don't understand why you would possibly claim that net neutrality is a true libertarian position...
posted by allan at 8:47 AM on May 4, 2006

Allan nails it.

Indeed, by describing net neutrality as libertarian, you're dooming it to failure. Are newspapers libertarian? Public forums? Free speech, unencumbered by market monopolist's interests, is small 'd' democratic. I hope.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2006

PS- Great stuff on the CALEA/wire tap tax.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:57 AM on May 4, 2006

Well, by granting tiered service and losing the neutral, meritocracy that the internet is, you would in essence moving from the status quo laissez fair market based approach towards granting services with regulated market advantages.
posted by rzklkng at 8:59 AM on May 4, 2006

It'll be a never ending onslaught of corrupt legislation until the telcos get what they want- 24/7 meaningful content-free internet TV.

Without the general public waking up and really taking action, there's little hope of fighting off every wave of attack. Some, if not all of these proposals will likely go through.

If not these then the next, or the next.

Tell you grandma to write a letter to a congress critter.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:08 AM on May 4, 2006

the connection between freedom of speech and libertarians is randian, at best.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:11 AM on May 4, 2006

rklkng - net neutrality is regulation that prevents companies from trying to maximize profits. This is anathema to any reasonable definition of libertarianism.

I was trying to come up with arguements for net neutrality. The only one I could come up with is "let markets be markets". The defenders say that if people really don't want tiered pricing, they will switch telcos, and if you counter that telcos constitute a monopoly, one would argue that the fight should be to deregulate telcos, not ban companies from trying to exploit a new market. Are there any other compelling arguements?
posted by allan at 9:18 AM on May 4, 2006

You're applying a term to a lot of people who have strong reasons to avoid that term.

To be "libertarian about x" implies a contradiction when someone is also "regulatory about y." Most of these bloggers would simply say, "I'm being consistently anti-monopolist." Trusts and cartels are bad, especially when they are legislatively elevated to their market-dominant positions. After all, your electric company doesn't tell you what to plug into your outlets, nor should Ma Bell dictate your phone conversations.

That said, I like the notion of "laissez fair." Finally a policy that doesn't force us to be prejudiced and capricious!

posted by anotherpanacea at 9:19 AM on May 4, 2006

I am pretty sure that not all these positions are classically libertarian. Indeed, the Cato Institute opposes net neutrality. I am pretty sure that describing something as "libertarian" is a way to get it to appeal to the tech class, just as describing something as "free" or "open" is a way to get it to appeal to Linux geeks.

In other words, rzlking, you've made a very sloppy generalization at best and perhaps an outright mischaracterization.

I'm not 100% behind the net neutrality idea, but I think it's generally a good principle to keep in mind. I think it would be unconscionable for a consumer served by, perhaps, two broadband providers to have two choices of latter-day AOL-style walled gardens. On the other hand, given that few of the potential discriminatory practices have actually been seen in the wild, it's entirely likely that preferential treatment would be bad for business. I'd rather wait and see -- but of course, that's the net neutrality position, because the ISP lobby is the one pushing for changes.

So, in this case net neutrality (for me) isn't so much a "hands off" approach as an "it ain't broke" position.
posted by dhartung at 9:38 AM on May 4, 2006

meritocracy that the internet is

if only.

internet could be democracy.

other than that and and linking to "pork" (the anti-pork lobby targets to much that is simply filling in the gaps), nice post.

try less editorializing. finding common ground between liberals and conservatives was a good move until it was categorized.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:49 AM on May 4, 2006

I'm trying to figure out some historical lesson we can reach back to in order to understand what is happening with the internet. Cheap postage? Telegrams?

How will advertisers react to providers attempts to create tiered access? How will companies that sell more and more online react?

Will anything that anyone can do to the internet bring newsprint back from the dead?
posted by ewkpates at 9:53 AM on May 4, 2006

ewkpates - check out Deborah Spar's Ruling the Waves. She examines the arc that a series of technologies (ocean transport, telegraph, radio, etc) follow from the explorations of a handful of enthusiasts/geeks to a revolutionary shift in social structure to cooption by existing dominant forces.

dhartung - I think one of the reasons to push for pre-emptive regulation is that business models that exploit a tiered pricing model often require infrastructure shifts, i.e. making sure that QoS isn't ruined by some intermediary network.
posted by allan at 10:06 AM on May 4, 2006

dhartung, allan, thanks for helping and focusing the issue for me. :)
posted by rzklkng at 10:10 AM on May 4, 2006

The internet itself fairly libertarian, just about anything goes in web business. That is why a dominant company like Yahoo can lose its number one spot to something like Google.

Now, if Yahoo had the protection of outside forces granting it an advantage, this may not have been possibile.

I guess I would say, the Internet is the most libertarian thing we have going, not perfectly of course, but if we start messing with it we will lose even that.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:44 AM on May 4, 2006

Furiousxgeorge: what happens on the Internet may be fairly libertarian (I agree), but what's at stake here is really changing the Internet itself.

The Internet functions a little like a commons. I don't want to put too much weight behind that metaphor, but I think it works for the current discussion.

Imagine a town square. It's the town's property. Anyone can set up a table to hawk their wares, or set up a soapbox to sound off about whatever's on their mind. Everyone pays a fee to the town proportionate to how much of the square they are using, and the square is large enough to be considered effectively limitless, so nobody can crowd anybody else out. Commerce on the town square operates on a fairly libertarian basis. This is your Internet with net-neutrality.

But there are a few people in town--the guy who lays cobblestones on the square, and a few guys with giant tables where they hawk stuff for other people who don't want to bother setting up their own tables--who are trying to convince the town elders to just hand over the town square to them. Once that happens, they'll charge admission to the town square as they see fit (perhaps more for people they don't like), and reserve the right to refuse admission entirely. This will not be the town square anymore. It will be a shopping mall. This is your Internet without net-neutrality. It's a shopping mall.
posted by adamrice at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2006

the connection between freedom of speech and libertarians is randian, at best.

at best, indeed. ok, let's ease up on rzklkng ... lots of good links in the "more inside" portion (though I could use some filtering ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 11:36 AM on May 4, 2006

good analogy adamrice, now why can't our representatives in Congress be as straighforward and eloquent - oh yeah, the guys with the giant tables pay them not to be...
posted by any major dude at 12:22 PM on May 4, 2006

The fundamental problem we all fear is vendor lock-in. This is mostly an artifact of the government granted monopoly known as intellectual property. I'm all for throwing net-neutrality to the wind if we do the same with IP. Otherwise, if the government creates rules and limits on what can be done with information, it shouldn't offer up a laissez-faire attitude to the problems caused by those rules.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:01 PM on May 4, 2006

I am pretty sure that describing something as "libertarian" is a way to get it to appeal to the tech class

I'm not so sure about that. While the % of "libertarians" (or people who think of the term positively) is almost certainly higher among the "tech class," I still think it is a minority.

For many, many people, libertarian is kind of like socialist. Not necessarily bad, depending on your view, but usually describes something that isn't going to happen or is impractical. At least, thats the reaction I generally see in the Valley, tech class central.

Gotta go with the people upthread -- maximum appeal will be generated by making this about freedom (like with speech), the "libertarian" moniker seems like an albatross to me.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:17 PM on May 4, 2006

There are two totally separate issues in net neutrality. The first is absolute access: can Verizon block a URL if the site owner doesn't pay Verizon a fee? The second is priority access: can Verizon charge Vonage or NBC a fee for routing its packets sufficiently well enough to give a satisfactory VOIP or video-viewing experience?

I think there's little chance of the first kind of repeal -- the public policy arguments are too strong, and the commercial rationale too weak.

The second kind of repeal has some theoretical issues, but I really don't see why activists are doing all the free lobbying for NBC and Vonage and other corporations who are perfectly capable of defending themselves.

From a commercial standpoint, the second kind of repeal isn't a big long-term threat. Most US consumers have two available broadband providers now (DSL and cable) and will be adding three more over the next five years or so (fiber to to the home, broadband over power, and metro broadband wireless). With that much competition, it's hard to imagine consumers not ending up on top.
posted by MattD at 6:18 AM on May 5, 2006

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