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Caught Up in the Net Neutrality

OK, so for those of you still sorting through what on earth to think of net neutrality, here's a good rundown of the topic by Reason editor Nick Gillespie -- if you want the libertarian perspective, that is, and I know you do.

Basically, his argument boils down to: Wait and see. The theoretical problems of not having net neutrality aren't that bad, and they aren't particularly likely either:

Consider this recent New Republic house editorial, which presents a very representative argument in favor of net neutrality. Subtitled "The Bush administration prepares to wreck the Internet," the piece conjures up the following dread scenario:
Imagine you were choosing whether to buy a book from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble's website, and you knew that Amazon's site would load much faster, allowing you to scan books and sample their content much more easily. Or imagine that Fox.com's streaming video came up instantly and CNN.com's balked. Or that whitehouse.gov loaded quickly while the site of a contentious political magazine was plagued by delays.

Forget for the moment that ISPs haven't kicked in tiered service yet, so there's no real telling what form(s) it might take. As Julian Sanchez noted at Reason Online back in April, the fears of net neutrality boosters--an entertainingly broad coalition ranging from high-tech behemoths such as Google and Microsoft and Amazon to political groups such as MoveOn and the Christian Coalition--revolve so far around a phantom menace. "It's true...that ISPs could misuse their control of the onramps to the Internet in a shortsighted attempt to extract monopoly rents, rather than benefit consumers," wrote Sanchez. "That's not a reason for preemptive regulation; it's a reason to see what happens... Hasty regulation that responds to hypothetical abuses may also prevent us from discovering benefits we haven't yet hypothesized."

Let's assume that The New Republic's worst fear of a fast-loading foxnews.com page comes true, even for those of us who prefer other, even more fair-and-balanced, less-comical news sources such as, say, The Onion. What are you likely to do in such a situation? Lump it or leave the company that delivers your broadband (as The Washington Post has reported, more than 60 percent of U.S. ZIP codes are served by four or more high-speed providers, a figure that will only continue to increase)? At the very least, you'll bitch and moan to your provider, which is known to have some beneficial effects, even with near-monopolists.

Essentially, the answer to any problems that might arise from net non-neutrality (net partiality?) is simply more competition between ISPs. And the less regulation there is, the more ISPs there are likely to be competing.

Consumers won't stand for Internet service that's not to their liking.