“Net neutrality,” you surely know, is the notion that all internet traffic ought to be treated equally. All it takes is that one little word, “equal,” to send hoards of left-wing morons to the barricades. For those who care to think through the issue, I offer the following.
If net neutrality is a good idea, so is “mail neutrality.” The Post Office should treat all mail equally. No more Priority Mail, not even First Class Mail. Just mail. No more commuter express lanes on the freeways. No priority for anybody, anywhere.
Data sent over the internet, or any local network for that matter, is divided into packets which have header information indicating the destination of the packet followed by a block of bytes that is the digital form of the data, whether text, audio, or video; web traffic, email, or ftp. As far as I know there is no provision in the ethernet protocol for priority information, but that isn’t necessary to prioritize packets.
Why should they be prioritized? Because different kinds of traffic have different natural degrees of urgency. email messages are not terribly urgent, but packets of video are, because if the those packets don’t keep coming at a steady pace, the result is irritating pauses and that little spinning circular thingy. If consumers of video want good service, they should pay for it. If email users who are in no hurry are willing to wait a bit and pay less, that’s good too. Markets generally tend to segment in this fashion. Starbucks doesn’t practice coffee neutrality. They offer fancy drinks to those willing to pay for them and plain coffee for those of us who just want the caffeine.
What rules should be set for internet providers? None, except common law prohibition and prosecution of theft and fraud. Let the service providers set their own policies for use of their private property. In the interests of their bottom line, they will seek out practices that best serve their customers. The crucial requirement is that politicians and bureaucrats be kept away.