Thought-provoking piece here by Aaron M. Renn of the Manhattan Institute.
I don’t agree with some of his conclusions here. Namely, that Congress and the FCC should immediately launch investigations into the censoring practices of Silicon Valley social media giants, which cut off the public’s access to content that they find politically objectionable.
We technically have no right to see certain types of information. Nor do we have to use Facebook or Google. Nor should we expect that these platforms (or any platforms) ensure we only see true, unbiased, factual information when browsing. It’s up to us to be informed—it’s not Facebook’s or Google’s job. We shouldn’t trust them, or anything else, so much.
(On that note, this is why I think Trump is, perhaps unknowingly, doing us all a favor by calling everything “fake news.” The fact is, there is a lot of fake news out there, and I think were were and are all just too fascinated by the speed and availability of information on the internet to stop and wonder whether what we’re reading is true. Much of it is simply false.)
But the bigger issue that this article raises is the almost arbitrary standard we use to determine whether something is a “public utility,” or simply ubiquitous enough that it should be governed by bureaucrats, not by owners.
Yes, “natural monopoly” is supposed to that standard. But that’s an absurd concept. I realize it’s an accepted notion among the vast majority of economists, but count me in the minority (here’s some reading on that).
Aside from that, it’s becoming clear that the day is nigh when policymakers push to turn Facebook and Google (and other similar tech/information platforms/networks) into what amounts to “public utilities,” with the goal of regulating them to be “neutral” in the way these tech giants want ISPs to be neutral. They’re certainly ubiquitous enough. But they are decidedly NOT “natural monopolies.”
This very article advocates such regulation in the last paragraph (though I don’t agree).
But of course, these companies would oppose that. Because they built these services, not the government. They should make their own rules.
That said, it’s wrong to assume that big companies like Facebook, Google and Comcast will always oppose policies that hamper their freedom to set prices and their freedom, generally. It’s a trade-off. If it means further weaving themselves into the public infrastructure, even at the expense of short-term profits, they may push for strategic regulations on themselves—especially ones that create permits and licenses that boost barriers to entry in their industries.
Think hypothetically: Comcast may one day decide to advocate for net neutrality (that is, for regulating itself) if it means they in turn become an “endorsed” provider of information—that only they are allowed to deliver internet because they are “licensed” and abide by the government’s rules. This kills their competition by boosting barriers to entry for their competition. It’s called “regulatory capture.”
This issue is complicated. It’s not just about “neutral” ISP.