American mathematician John Allen Paulos once said: “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
He’s right, and it’s very important to remember in light of the Federal Communications Commission today adopting net neutrality rules by a 3-2 vote.
Many of those who disagree with the decision, such as Mark Cuban, based their opposition in the notion that FCC oversight of the Internet (including wireless) creates uncertainty that will imperil future innovation. Not only for Internet service providers like Comcast (CMCSA) and Verizon (VZ), but also for the next generation of content provider that must rely on ISP infrastructure to deliver their wares.
“If you’re like me and you think the best is yet to come, you don’t want the FCC involved because of all the uncertainty,” Cuban said today on CNBC. He added that because FCC commissioners are political appointees, we have no way of knowing who future commissioners will be or how they will wield their new powers.
The only trouble is that uncertainty is not the exclusive province of things under government oversight. We had it before the vote, and would have had it no matter how many commissioners said ‘aye.’
Absent net neutrality, do we know if ISPs would have created so-called “fast lanes” for content providers who are willing to pay a toll? Or simply slow down service of those who don’t? Do we know whether or not there will be a macro-economic event that slows down venture capital investment in new tech startups, or makes it harder for existing ones to go public? Do we know if some massive new data-hog will emerge, or if the ultimate Netflix (NFLX) killer is a company that somehow compresses the bits into something more manageable for existing pipes?
Remember, we don’t even know that the broadband repair guy will show up between 1pm to 4pm, even though we are explicitly told that he will. Uncertainty all over the place.
To be sure, it is possible that Cuban’s Internet doomsday will come to pass. I think it highly unlikely, but would never rule it out entirely. Likewise, it’s possible that net neutrality will result in greater innovation. After all, the law of unintended consequences swings both ways. And, in either case, future FCC appointees could make changes (just as future FCC appointees could have passed their own version of net neutrality rules, had today’s vote failed).
All we really can do is make judgments based on the best information that is currently available. And reasonable people can disagree on it. But not if your opinion is based primarily on the specter of uncertainty, as if there is any legitimate alternative.
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