One advantage of the Internet is the ability to pull random pieces of information together. The following post is inspired by two of my fav bloggers.
I have always been uncomfortable with the anti-ISP bandwidth/Internet Freedom/Net Neutrality debate. Some of my thoughts on this are well known by now. Chris Parsons appears to be an avid champion of Internet freedom for consumers. Many of his posts illustrate a core belief that consumers, not "unaccountable ISPs" should control or decide what shaping or bandwidth monitoring practices are used.
For the record, I'm all for the control being in the ISPs hands. I would be more distrustful of a neutral third party overseeing this (I suspect such a system would be either toothless, inefficient, incompetent or all three.) This is one case where I support market forces in a free economy to even things out (ISPs that piss off too many customers are biting the hand that feeds them).
An underlying theme though from proponents of Net Neutrality is this sentiment: Because I the consumer can choose, I the consumer should be able to choose. Examples are: If I want to hook up a server to my home internet connection, if I am capable of it I should be allowed to do it without restrictions. If I the consumer wish to use BitTorrent to download content, I should be allowed to do it without restriction. (To be fair to Chris, he acknowledges that their are technical limitations that justify bandwidth management. His concerns are centered around who makes that determination.)
It is in that vein, that I read this post by Adam Rawlings. You're better off reading the whole thing, and part 1 as well.
This section resonated with me in regards to the Net Neutrality debate:
So, freedom in the political sense consists both of the lack of restriction by political institutions and the granting of new abilities by political institutions. On the face of it, these are in serious tension with each other -- forget whether they are in tension with human freedom. That is, in order to create new abilities, it seems that political institutions must impose restrictions on us. In order for there to be public offices, for example, there must be powers associated with those offices, powers which can be used on others. So, if we want to have the freedom to run for public office, we must give up the freedom to not be restricted by those who hold public office. And vice versa -- if we want to maintain the lack of restriction, we must give up the existence of public offices.
The concept that making one choice in the name of freedom creates or limits other choices is interesting. If we took the extreme case and completely banned all forms of bandwidth monitoring/management on the Internet, it is my humble technical opinion as a network guy that the end result would be widespread and random outages. Our freedom to use the Internet would be threatened by chaotic technical limitations because of our intent to create more freedom of use. An example is our road network. Many laws govern where you may drive, who can operate a vehicle, what kind of vehicles can be operated and how those vehicles are operated. We do this to control and allow safe use of the road network. Unfettered access would limit safety (and more than likely efficient use of the roads as well.) It isn't a coincidence that I find more parallels with the Internet and vehicular traffic, than between other utilities and the Internet (which Chris often compares too.)
Our efforts to control the choices ISPs make in the name of consumer freedom affects other choices we as consumers get to make for ourselves. This is the one area where I truly believe the consumer does not understand what they are asking for, and their efforts will make the situation worse, not better. That by controlling the ISPs, we'll be impairing our own access. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" and all that.
Outside the freedom of choice argument, if I had to make a black and white statement, it is this. As long as ISPs are private entities, we the consumers have no implicit rights to the services they offer. ISPs are under no obligation to upgrade or improve service on their networks. They are entirely within their rights as businesses to milk as much profit as possible out of existing infrastructure. It is up to the management group to decide how to deliver the service within a competitive economy. We as consumers only have the right to subscribe or not subscribe, and with who we enter into contract with.
ISPs state that they need to control bandwidth because the infrastructure can not handle the load, is rebutted by the idea that these same ISPs make huge profits, which could theoretically be used to upgrade their service. There are two problems with that argument. The first is practical. Since we do not know the cost to upgrade infrastructure to meet consumers wishes, we cannot assume that ISP profits would cover those costs. As the Australian example shows, this isn't a cheap proposal.
The second problem is that in a market private-enterprise driver economy, customers have little say in how profits are used. Just because RIM makes record profits, doesn't mean the prices of BlackBerrys should fall. Or because banks make record profits, ATM fees should disappear. Or that Oil and Gas companies make record profits that gasoline prices should fall.
It isn't that I am a champion of the corporate world. I have been ripped off enough times that I am cynical of many (most?) corporate messages. I just come to this view based on the fact we live within a capitalist economy. Tinkering within the model is doomed to failure. If the model is proving unsatisfactory, we need to replace the whole thing. If Internet accessibility is a requirement, then we should nationalize the infrastructure and turn it into a crown corporation. That's an argument I'm a lot more sympathetic too.