A conservative’s argument against net neutrality

It’s a fairly simple question, really.

My current internet service provider (ISP) is Comcast/Xfinity/whatever the hell else they are calling themselves these days.

My current utility company is Xcel Energy.

The idea behind net neutrality is to turn ISPs into a regulated monopoly. As a practical matter, Comcast is a regulated monopoly, since they are able to provide monopoly service within a local area. The regulation here comes, in large measure, from the local governments that oversee the franchise agreement that Comcast operates under — essentially, a swath of the Ramsey County suburbs. I can’t get Charter, or Time Warner, or some other company. I do have the option of getting my phone and internet from CenturyLink; perhaps some day, I will.

Xcel Energy is regulated by the State of Minnesota, as is CenterPoint Energy. I can’t buy my energy from CenterPoint, because I live in an area that Xcel serves.

At bottom, net neutrality is turning ISPs into regulated monopolies, but at the federal level. If you want to address the performance of a regulated monopoly, you have to take it up with the level of government that oversees the regulated monopoly. Right now, I can buttonhole someone in New Brighton city government about Comcast. If Comcast was regulated at the national level, I’d have to go to my congresswoman, Betty McCollum. Who is more likely to take my call?

If you support net neutrality, you are supporting oversight at a higher level of government. I can see why Barack Obama and Al Franken would like that. Should you? Here’s a compelling argument why you shouldn’t.

This post was written by Mark Heuring and originally published on Mr. Dilettante’s Neighborhood.

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 11/14/2014 - 05:25 pm.

    The above makes no sense.

    Net Neutrality prohibits any ISP from denying you access to sites on the Internet. You can use any ISP you choose that is available to you.

    You use Xfinity/Comcast–by choice. They have a monopoly. You do not have a choice of any other company for your cable service.

    Plus, you are limited to the speeds offered by Xfinity/Comcast. You have no choice. You take what they offer because you do not have a choice. Same goes with Centurylink. Monopoly.

    What you really want is very simple and has established legal precedent with the breakup of telephone monopolies

    1. Available high-speed Internet to your home, AND
    2. a CHOICE of multiple suppliers of available programming.

  2. Submitted by Joey Senkyr on 11/14/2014 - 06:18 pm.

    I’m curious why you think Comcast is likely to be more responsive to a request from a New Brighton City Councilmember than a Senator or the President. Is it because you decided to automatically be against anything Obama is for, without wasting time finding out anything about the topic? (Note: conservative propaganda sites, (or liberal propaganda sites, for that matter), don’t count as researching a topic)

    • Submitted by Don Casey on 11/15/2014 - 11:36 am.

      Don’t cable systems operate under franchise agreements with each of the cities in which they operate? The cities grant permission for use of public rights of way and in return receive fees (e.g. a percent of revenues) and other considerations (often “public access” channels).

      If a city franchise is necessary to operate, why wouldn’t a cable company be more responsive to city officials?

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/14/2014 - 07:28 pm.

    I agree with the first two posts

    It is ridiculous that we can’t purchase electricity and natural gas from whoever we want. Hopefully, once net neutrality is the law, we can get the same deal for power. I’d much rather purchase my electricity from the power company right next to the hydroelectric dam and natural gas from the company right next to where the drilling is going on.

    I especially agree with the post stating that the President will get a better response to a request– or Executive Action..

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/16/2014 - 03:38 pm.

      Net neutrality is the status quo

      in the sense that you can access any website you want with no extra expenses to you or to the owner of the website. What the ISPs want is either to charge users extra for access to popular websites like Netflix or Facebook or to charge the websites themselves, which may raise the prices that they charge users (in the case of Netflix) or prompt the websites to go from free to paid.

      Net neutrality has nothing to do with your choice of ISPs. In fact, because the ISPs are so powerful and are able to “contribute to” so many politicians, most Americans have no choice of ISP. In fact, the ISPs are trying to get the FCC to BAN projects in which certain cities are undertaking to provide municipal fiber-optic Internet for their citizens.

      In other countries, the ISPs are heavily regulated, but you have a choice of providers. That is a separate issue from net neutrality.

  4. Submitted by Wes Davey on 11/14/2014 - 08:10 pm.

    For some reason…

    For some reason, I just didn’t expect a MINNPOST article to start with “whatever the hell else they are calling themselves these days.” The use of mild profanity wasn’t necessary and didn’t help get the author’s point across (for that matter, neither did the rest of the article). This article should have been left on the blog where it was found.

  5. Submitted by David Mindeman on 11/14/2014 - 09:49 pm.

    That’s an argument?

    Using cable and power company regulation as the model? The idea of Net Neutrality is to keep its use open to everyone. Cable and Power are totally different animals and require narrower sets of regulations that are less competitive but keep it manageable. The point made is apples to oranges and is useless.

  6. Submitted by Sean Fahey on 11/14/2014 - 09:59 pm.

    A conservative argument FOR net neutrality

    Some of Obama’s biggest supporters are media companies and some are ISPs. One huge company is both: Comcast*. Obama could have gone either way on this. His FCC chairman is a former cable industry lobbyist. This decision is about who was able to sweeten the pot for Democrats the most.

    Net Neutrality isn’t a liberal vs conservative issue.

    Think of it like this: imagine you didn’t have electricity neutrality in your home, and Xcel has a partnership with Maytag that lets you run their appliances for a lower kWh price. Like you said, Xcel is a monopoly in a lot of areas. Now Maytag pays for the privilege to be favored by this monopoly. Anybody buying a new dishwasher is going to go with Maytag. Competitors are forced to play ball with Xcel or they will lose the market. That’s not a free market, that’s a state-enforced monopoly throwing it’s power around.

    *National Review Article about Democrats and Comcast: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/375116/how-comcast-bought-democratic-party-matthew-continetti

  7. Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/14/2014 - 10:12 pm.

    per usual

    Fails to address WHY these entities are monopolies. It makes no sense to have duplicative services, (ie electric, and or phone and cable lines) when space and aesthetics are at a premium. Since no one wants a hundred overhead power lines or roads and neighborhoods under a state of constant construction to allow for competing providers lines to be laid, we accept monopoly for those with infrastructure in place. It makes perfect sense for companies who receive this privilege to accept strong regulation to ensure they do not abuse it. As the entities managing things like power, water, and gas tend to be local, or at most regional, it makes sense to regulate at that level. As entities like Comcast are multiregional and operate across state lines it makes sense to regulate at a national level. I fail to see what is so terribly hard to understand here, outside of the perogative of conservatives to side with industry against consumers in every possible circumstance.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/15/2014 - 08:45 am.

      That’s the statist’s argument

      Some of us are trying to maintain a free market economy which is operated for the good of buyers and sellers and not for the convenience of the bureaucracy, which is your argument.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/15/2014 - 11:28 pm.

        last I checked

        Your fellow citizens aren’t part of the “bureaucracy”. Do you really mean to tell us that you’d subject your neighbors to their property being ransacked, to their roads being mangled, all that you might save a couple cents on the hour on your utility rates. I hope you live far, far away from anyone else.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2014 - 09:48 am.

        Nonsense

        Free markets in practice exist for the benefit of sellers.
        They are inherently unstable.
        Without restraints (regulation) you get a feedback loop where one company gains a slight advantage, increases its market share, and through economies of scale increases its share until it controls most of the market, leaving small niches for competitors.
        The Japanese, and later the Koreans, were able to break into the American auto markets only because they could first develop their industry in their home markets isolated from the American market. As markets become more global, this becomes more difficult. There were a lot more automobile manufacturers a century ago.

      • Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 11/16/2014 - 10:30 am.

        Well, if you want competition….

        “Some of us are trying to maintain a free market economy which is operated for the good of buyers and sellers…”

        Let us know how many fire departments (minimum) are required per city. And your insurance is tied to having a subscription to a SPECIFIC fire department. So if your house catches fire, YOUR fire dept is the one that MUST respond–no other.

        Same rules apply to police departments. And water service. And sewer. And electricity. And cable. And so on. Don’t forget: Roads are also “all private”–so now, to which “road service” do you subscribe? And how do you get to work when your house is on a different road service than your employer?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/16/2014 - 10:48 am.

        See, this is the problem with magical thinking

        Free market economies don’t magically produce the best outcomes for buyers and sellers, they deliver the most benefit to whomever has the most leverage, be it buyer or seller. This is basic economic fact. If you want a market that is operated for the “good” of buyers and sellers, you need a regulated market that balances leverage in some way. This is simply logic.

        Another fact: In the same way our free-market champions cannot point to a national economy that out performs ours using their libertarian principles, they cannot point to a truly “free market” anywhere. All markets are regulated in some fashion, the difference is the nature and purpose of regulation, not the existence or non-existence of regulation. This has nothing to do with “States”, it just an economic fact.

        One last fact: The people who created the United States, wrote the constitution etc, created a nation of laws. The whole function of those laws, the Bill of Rights, etc was to BALANCE leverage so that neither the wealthy could not oppress the poor, and majority could not oppress the minority or individuals. In other words, they designed a regulated nation and society. Any Free-Market champion who claims to be drawing inspiration from our founding father or constitution is either ignorant or dishonest. Such agendas do not return us to our democratic “ideals”. Such agendas would merely deliver us into a Ayn Randian distopia wherein individual freedom or liberty would be a incoherent farce.

    • Submitted by Don Casey on 11/15/2014 - 11:45 am.

      It isn’t necessary to have duplicate infrastructure for transmission to allow choice between two (or conceivable more) utilities. At a home we own in another state, we have a choice of electric utility providers. Both use the same distribution system and each bills its own customers for service. We can have one provider, our neighbor another.

      From a cost standpoint, there probably is no difference because the state utility commission controls rates. But it would be possible.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/15/2014 - 11:25 pm.

        sigh

        But someone, (one of the providers) owns that infratructure. You may be buying service from a different provider, but you are still paying for access to that line. In fact, you are probably paying more than you should, value wise. But please, continue paying for the illusion of “competition, I’m sure someone’s paycheck depends on it.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/15/2014 - 10:58 am.

    Free markets under any other name…

    We should have built our internet and high speed internet structure as public utility to begin with. Our experiment with free market unregulated internet has given us the slowest, least available, and most expensive internet service in the developed world.

    Our affordable prices and solid service for our utilities are not the product of free markets, they are the product of regulated markets. This idea that consumer choice somehow produces the best results is little more than magical thinking.

    The other problem that hasn’t been addressed in these comments is the fact that net neutrality prevents service providers from throttling speeds up and down for a variety of reasons. Left to their own devices providers will sell you high speeds and then throttle you back, Comcast already does this, so they charge for speeds they don’t actually deliver. You can’t simply run a speed-test to make sure you’re getting the promised speeds because they can see what websites your accessing and throttle your speed accordingly. So when you connect to Netflix, they’ll give you 5MB down, but if go over and connect to Speed Test, they’ll give you 30 or 50 or whatever. DSL is different, but it’s not available everywhere which brings us to the other problem.

    With infrastructure like this competition is always limited because the equipment is owned by one company. When a company spends millions of dollars installing fiber optics, it’s hard to require they let a competitor use that equipment. Our experience with breaking up AT&T is that it didn’t result in better pricing or services for most people (look at your phone bill). At any rate, my friends in Maple Grove don’t have a choice between Century Link or Comcast because Century Link doesn’t have fiber optics out there or a DSLAM within range. Huering would have us wait until competition develops, with no guarantee that it ever will develop ( Centurylink may never decide to deploy another DSLAM closer to my friend’s house).

    Net Neutrality simply tells providers that no matter what technology they’re using, or what kind of infrastructure, these are the rules. For the customer that means that if you’re paying for 30MB download speeds, you get those speeds regardless of content or browsing choices. Otherwise Comcast cuts a deal with Hulu instead of Netfix and the customer who connects to Hulu gets 50MB down while the Netflix customer gets 10 even though they’re both paying the same price. Right now that’s perfectly legal because all the contracts say: “Up to”.

  9. Submitted by Bruce Kvam on 11/15/2014 - 11:28 pm.

    All Phone Service Providers Should be Treated Equally

    CenturyLink is regulated as an telecommunications service (phone company) because it started out as a phone company monopoly.

    Comcast started out as a cable company monopoly, and as a broadband provider was classified as an “information service” back in the 1990s before it provided telephony over IP.

    Now that Comcast is a full-fledged telephone company, its phones now work with 911 and it claims you can completely abandon your CenturyLink service because Comcast is a REAL phone company.

    By Comcast’s own logic, it should be reclassified as a telecommunications service and regulated in exactly the same way that CenturyLink is. Both companies should be treated the same way if they provide the same services.

    Combined with the fact that the Internet service that companies like Comcast provide is mostly used for communications and not information (Facebook and email are telecomm services, plain and simple), there is no question that cable companies like Comcast should be reclassified as telecomm services.

    The president’s call for cable companies to be treated as such is a simple recognition of the facts on the ground. It’s not some governmental overreach, it’s simple reality: Comcast is a phone company now, and should be treated like one.

  10. Submitted by Mark Heuring on 11/16/2014 - 10:47 am.

    Thanks for reading

    Glad you all enjoyed, or didn’t enjoy, what was intended as an observation, not a full-blown argument, concerning net neutrality. A couple of points:

    I have no dog in this fight, nor any great love for Comcast. I rather dislike them, actually — hence the “mild profanity.”

    The point I’m making about New Brighton politicians is that they do have a voice in granting franchises. There’s a pretty good chance that we will have a new cable provider/ISP serving our area soon, because the local commission may not choose to go with the successor company to Comcast — my understanding is that Comcast is going to have to divest certain markets because of their pending merger. And that’s the point — to the extent that I, like most people, get my internet service from a de facto monopoly, I’d prefer to have that oversight of the monopoly take place at a level that’s closer to me. Your mileage may vary.

    Finally, I don’t write for MinnPost, so whatever standards readers might envision for MinnPost don’t enter into my thought process or approach. I never know when, or what, MinnPost chooses to publish from my blog. I am grateful that MinnPost does run my posts from time to time, since the MinnPost audience is significantly larger than the small but loyal readership I have on my own blog. To its credit, MinnPost is offering a conservative voice in what is largely a center-left format. And I’m happy to be a piñata for y’all. If I can get MinnPost a few extra clicks by offering a contrarian view, that’s good for everyone. I’m not a member of the StarTribune alumni association that works for this website, nor am I attempting to be a professional journalist or pundit. There’s a reason why my blog name uses the term dilettante; I have no interest in being comprehensive or definitive. I’m just offering my take on things.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/16/2014 - 05:18 pm.

      Local control

      ” I’d prefer to have that oversight of the monopoly take place at a level that’s closer to me. ”

      Maybe maybe not. Cities don’t have a lot of regulatory clout on their own as a general rule. I think Comcast has been lobbying for a Federal law that would actually prohibit cities from setting up their own internet services like the wireless system in MPLS for instance. When and if New Brighten tries to regulate telecom on it’s own, it could well be smushed in a variety of ways rather than provide the “choice” you might be looking for. It’s also pretty much impossible for a suburban city like New Brighten to regulate the piping and throttling issues we’ve raised on it’s own. There’s also one more issue about local control… sometimes local government is more susceptible to corruption, so the “market” choices made on a local level may not produce the best results for your pocket book.

      By the way, I doubt anyone was attacking you personally, and I do appreciate your article. I hope you don’t too feel too banged around.

      • Submitted by Mark Heuring on 11/16/2014 - 07:32 pm.

        It’s not personal at all

        No, I don’t feel banged around at all. I do understand that it wasn’t personal.

        To clarify — I don’t believe that New Brighton is going to regulate telecom. They can, in coordination with the other communities in the area, award the cable television franchise to a different provider. That the cable provider and the ISP provider for many people in my area is the same company makes a difference. And it is certain that Comcast’s behavior merits scrutiny on multiple levels.

        And yes, local control can be corrupt, and often is. The difference is that it’s easier to get in the grill of a corrupt local official than it is to get to someone inside the Beltway.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/17/2014 - 10:40 am.

          Yeah…

          I think the problem is that the existing market conditions and the actual architecture of the telecom system defy your thesis. Your city can choose a different vendor but all vendors are pretty much the same so you’re unlikely notice the difference. Furthermore, the city, or even a collection of cities, don’t have the leverage to mandate any real improvement. Sure, can talk to your council person, but they can’t do anything. Any new provider that comes in will be using the same architecture anyways.

          Regulation actually gives you and your local government more leverage. Consider the Public Utilities Commission for instance. A while back when Qwest was breaking up the area codes, in my neck of the woods we had been told for two years that we’d be a “952” area code. Then about three months before the change Qwest informed us that for blah blah blah reasons (read: “because it’s easier for them for some reason”) we’d be a “763” area code. Well, people like me with businesses had spent thousands of dollars on advertising that couldn’t be changed to “763”. Complaints to Qwest were useless, and the city could do nothing. Thirty or forty calls by people like me to the PUC stopped Qwest in it’s tracks.

          Net Neutrality wouldn’t change your cities ability to contract with different vendors, but it would give your city more leverage in those negotiations by establishing basic enforceable ground rules all providers would have to follow. Compare it the rules the FCC established for the digital signal conversion, I now get HDTV for FREE over the air, while cable and Dish customers have to pay extra for it. Why? Because over-the-air broadcasts are regulated more than cable and satellite.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/16/2014 - 10:57 am.

    Check out this New York Times article

    There’s a nice article in the NYTs business section that examines the problems of throttling the speed according content:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/your-money/a-plumbing-problem-for-the-internet-and-the-stock-market-.html?ref=business&_r=0

    This also dovetails nicely into our conversations regarding the abilities of free markets. One problem with free market champions is that they always assume that competition is driver of costs and pricing. In fact, one function of regulation is to prevent monopolies or at least regulate them. “Free” markets don’t actually create competition, they promote monopolies when large companies use their leverage to acquire any competition. The assumption that unregulated markets would produce options for consumer to choose from is contrary to observed reality in capitalist economies. One any economic sector get large enough, it starts to consolidate rather than multiply players.

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