Posts tagged ‘Chinese Internet’

And the First to Violate Net Neutrality is ... The Government!

I have never been very excited about the concept of "net neutrality."  Various bills in Congress trying to enforce this strike me as Trojan horses for regulation of the Internet, and are at best the attempts by one segment of the population to enforce their vision of the Internet via the coercive power of the government. But more on this in a second.

The City of Boston has a free municipal Wi-Fi network  (I aired some of my objections to this here).  By using this "free" wi-fi network (which is free only in the sense that you paid for it via taxes rather than use fees) you apparently must accept government filtering of the content, which caused Boing-Boing to get blocked the other day, for some "arbitrary and capricious" reasons.  Readers may remember I already dinged Boston once when it used its government power to try to block free competitors.

So despite all the panic that evil capitalist broadband suppliers will somehow block or skew content from certain content suppliers, it turns out that the government, acting as broadband supplier, is the first to do so.  Fortunately, Bostonians have many free competitors to the municipal service that provide uncensored access to the Internet.  But without those private options, they would be enjoying the Chinese Internet experience.

Which gets us back to the issue of accountability.  In short, socialists distrust individual self-interest and the market as accountability tools, and believe the government is much more accountable, and therefore trustworthy, than any private institution.  What amazes be is that anyone with a working knowledge of history can continue to believe this.  Take any issue:

  • Corruption?  Sure there was Enron and Worldcom, but any crimes at these institutions are trivial compared in both magnitude and frequency to the financial abuses of government.  Take pensions as one example.  Maybe 10-20 out of 500 of the companies in the DJIA have underfunded pensions, with some money put away but not enough.  But probably 99 out of every 100 municipalities you can name have underfunded pensions, and in most cases these not only have too little money put away, they have ZERO!
  • Worker health?  Almost all private work environments are incredibly safe -- the very fact that we are worried about carpal tunnel syndrome should tell you something.  But what about in the past?  Well, take one of the highest profile cases of worker harm, that of long-term asbestos exposure.  A huge number of the worst asbestos cases are people exposed in government naval yards.  Government naval yards, for decades, eschewed basic worker protections from asbestos that were common in private industry.
  • Environment?  One only has to look at the superfund site list and see that government sites are represented way out of proportion to their economic activity.  This is not to say their are not god-awful private sites, created either through ignorance or willful disregard, but you will find that the government was at least as active a polluter as even the worst private polluters.   Or look around today, at water quality.  The number of private contributors to water problems is nearly nil.  Most modern water pollution problems are caused by governments (Boston's "solution" to piping raw sewage into the harbor was to... lay a longer pipe and dump it further out in the ocean).
  • Monopoly?  It is hard to find, in history, any stable private monopolies.  Perhaps the most famous, Standard Oil, was losing market share rapidly due to private forces at the time of its breakup.  Government monopolies, however, can last forever despite high prices and crappy services.  Just look at public education.
  • Commerce?  Those who are frequent readers will know that I buy some product from the government, and they are by far my worst, hardest to deal with, and most abusive vendor.

Getting back to the issue of net neutrality, let's take a look at what accountability-enforcement tools a private individual has over a private vs. a public broadband supplier.  If I don't like my private broadband supplier, I can make a phone call and switch to one of several others.  Time elapsed:  About 30 minutes.  If I don't like my public broadband supplier, I could switch to a private company.  But this is really a libertarian end-around to the socialist problem.  To be fair, we need to look at a pure socialist system and evaluate the accountability tools in this system.  So, assuming the government entity has enforced a monopoly position for itself (like in education or the postal service), I would have to muster a grass roots campaign and likely millions of dollars to force any changes through an entrenched and brain-dead legislative body.  Time elapsed:  From 3 years to never.

Culver City Adopts Chinese Model of Internet Access

TJIC has a great link to a new law blog called CopyOwner focused no free speech issues.  CopyOwner observes that Culver City, California appears to be emulating the Chinese Internet model, providing access for free, but only if you accept state censoring:

First, they offer Internet access, but you must agree to "limited"
Internet access. And they don't mean limited hours of the day, limited
locations, or a limited amount of time you can be on. No, when they say
"limited," they mean that they will censor access to parts of the
Internet. ("By using this free wireless network you are agreeing and
acknowledging you have read and accepted these terms and conditions of
use, and this wireless network provides only limited access to the
Internet.") In other words, they do not offer Internet access at all....

Second, in order to gain the right to enjoy
this free, public, non-Internet access, no matter what you read in the
Bill of Rights (and the First Amendment, in particular) you must agree
that the government may abridge your freedom of speech and you further
agree that when it does so (as it promises to do), you will not
exercise your right to sue for the violation of your First Amendment

I'm not making this up. Here's the fine print:
"Further, [by using it] you are agreeing to waive any claims,
including, but not limited to First Amendment claims, that may arise
from the City and Agency's decision to block access to "¦ matter and
websites [of its choosing] through this free wireless network "¦."

a legal standpoint, it is the same as if the Culver City public library
were offering you free access to newspapers, but was first clipping out
the articles it didn't like and making you agree not to sue for
censorship if you wanted to read what was left.

My thought at first was that this was a liability response, but my sense is that the courts have been pretty consistent in protecting ISPs when plaintiff lawyers try to drag them in as deep pockets into lawsuits  (e.g. trying to sue Earthlink because it was the medium for delivering a MySpace page which in turn allegedly facilitated some action someone is suing over).  I am left with the sense that this is just politicians trying to protect themselves from criticism.  I am almost tempted to see how this thing plays out - censorship really gets ugly in a democratic environment.  You end up with a million interest groups all lobbying that they know best what should be censored.  You would have people in the town office arguing for censorship of pornography, religion (both pro and con), evolution (pro and con), nazis, Israel, global warming skepticism.  Whatever.  (By the way, I have seen people arguing in some context for censoring every item in the preceding list)