Net Neutrality, the Hierarchy, and the Network
Anybody who has seen their torrents throttled over the years knows that net neutrality really doesn’t exist, regardless if it is the law of the land.
The argument against net neutrality – the notion of equality in experience – has been long trotted out. The argument goes that you have 1 person in 100 that is responsible for gobbling up 80% of the bandwidth – and they’re degrading the experience for the other 99. So, to preserve the experience for everybody minus 1, the ISP simply must place curbs on that one person.
Such framing is designed to exclude the notion that the pie isn’t strictly fixed and metering isn’t essential. ISP’s are incented to maximize revenue by generating scarcity (think DeBeers) as opposed to maximize customer utility by lighting up dark fiber. Or, for that matter, looking at ways to localize content distribution.
Networks are incredibly disruptive things. They undermine the traditional way of doing things, and bring about really unwanted change. From the creation of secret societies to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty to the organization of trade unions, and through to bit torrenting – networks are generally used to upset order. Sometimes it’s for the better. Sometimes it’s for the worse.
In general, hierarchies reassert themselves. That’s generally the rule isn’t? The Manchu’s were replaced with the warlords. The trade unions have been replaced by Wall Street. Bit Torrent is being replaced by the ISP’s.
The gradual erosion of Net Neutrality – first by way of the illegal throttling – and now more formally in the Google-Verizon agreement, is by and large the hierarchy simply reorganizing itself.
To label it good or bad would be to get all normative about it. It’s simply a human phenomenon that’s been repeated over and over and over again. If you recognize it, and you have a problem with it, understand where they’re coming from – and reframe. If you support it – then you just have to sit back. Or, use technology to accentuate the power of the network against the hierarchy.
It has powerful implications for analysts. Generally speaking, it’s far easier to measure a hierarchy than it is to measure a network.