Mark Cuban, Ayn Rand, and Neutering the Internet
“If Ayn Rand were an up and coming author today,” Mark Cuban recently tweeted, “she wouldnt (sic) write about steel or railroads, it would be net neutrality.”
I don’t know if Cuban is correct, but his comparison is apt for at least two reasons: Like railroads in their heyday and in Atlas Shrugged, the Internet is a crucial means of transporting an essential commodity — information — on which the rest of the economy has come to depend. But just as government intervention into the economy ended up wrecking the railroads (among other industries) in Atlas Shrugged, so “net neutrality” will end up making the Internet function more like Amtrak than the vibrant marketplace and font of innovation it has been for the last two decades.
Cuban has rightly been criticizing net neutrality since President Obama urged the FCC to classify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as telecommunications companies, which would effectively give the FCC the power to treat these companies as regulated utilities. But this isn’t the first time the government has pushed net neutrality. Calls to make ISPs treat all customers “equally” go back at least a decade. At the time, ARI’s Alex Epstein wrote an
op-ed, which is just as relevant today as it was then.
Then, as now, the issue was whether ISPs should be able to charge different rates for different customers based on the speed, frequency, and reliability that their data is transmitted. Then, as now, proponents of neutrality claim that it is necessary to keep the Internet “free” and functioning the way it was designed. Then, as now, their claims are nonsensical. ISPs invested billions in the Internet infrastructure they created and they want to be able to profit on that investment, as they have a right to do. Their ability to charge different rates for different services will lead to better service, not worse.
This is not exactly a new idea. Most businesses charge different prices for different services and different customers. Epstein cites UPS as one example, but there are many, many more. And there are just as many examples of government-controlled industries that offer shoddy services. The big three television broadcasters, local cable companies, AT&T, Amtrak, and the postal service are just a few examples.
Go read Alex’s op-ed. And while you’re at it, I propose a new name for net neutrality. How about neutering the Internet?