Tim Lee on ‘network neutrality’: Libertarian computer geeks should forge a third way

“Many computer geeks are also libertarians, so it’s not too surprising to hear Tim Lee proudly describe himself as a member of both groups,” Scott Woolley reports for Fortune. “No, what makes Lee unusual is his passion for figuring out exactly what it means to be both a libertarian and a technophile. What’s the best way to increase both the power of technology and the preserve of liberty?”

“As Washington feuds over rules that will govern the digital future, that question seems particularly important, timely and (for Lee and others with a libertarian bent) confusing,” Woolley reports. “Take the raging fight over ‘network neutrality.’ Protecting the open nature of the Internet, where anyone can communicate with anyone else on essentially equal terms, surely advances the cause of individual liberty. Yet the government now seeks to advance that goal with a new layer of new regulations, exactly the sort of thing libertarians naturally distrust.”

“The 31 year-old Lee, who is among other things an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, a PhD candidate in Princeton’s technology and public policy program and an increasingly well-known blogger, first became fascinated with solving such seeming paradoxes thanks to a gut feeling he had about some of his natural political allies,” Woolley reports. “‘It was obvious to me that some of the things that some libertarians were saying about tech policy were wrong,’ he says.”

Woolley reports, “Just as libertarians disapprove of both Republicans (for their tendency to regulate private conduct) and Democrats (for their tendency to regulate the market), Lee argues that libertarians should forge a third way in tech policy.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote over 4½ years ago back in June 2006: We don’t presume to know the best way to get there, but we support the concept of “Net Neutrality” especially as it pertains to preventing the idea of ISP’s blocking or otherwise impeding sites that don’t pay the ISP to ensure equal access. That said, we usually prefer the government to be hands-off wherever possible, Laissez-faire, except in cases where the free market obviously cannot adequately self-regulate (antitrust, for just one example). Regulations are static and the marketplace is fluid, so extensive regulations can have unintended, unforeseen results down the road. We sincerely hope that there are enough forces in place and/or that the balances adjust in such a manner as to keep the ‘Net neutral. What do you think?

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Jax44” for the heads up.]


  1. Great article. Well worth going to the link and reading its entirety in Fortune.

    In my view the government’s role should be one of referee. In other words, insuring the parties play fair and don’t create monopolies, e.g., anti-trust. Unfortunately, our government has been captured by industry and rather than playing referee, the government plays enforcer of monopolies and oligarchies.

    Hence while the FTC should be the one to ensure net neutrality, we probably cannot trust them to do it in a way that protects the public’s liberty.

    I hope Tim Lee solves this paradox.

  2. The problem is that, particularly in the past 10 years or so, the U.S. government has tried over and over again (and succeeded in many cases) to take away personal freedoms in the name of “security”. We now have law enforcement with the ability to perform wire taps without warrants, secret courts for homeland security-type issued, and other invasions of our traditional freedoms.

    Anyone who thinks our current government will simply play referee is fooling themselves. The government just can’t help grabbing as much power as possible, little by little, away from private enterprise or private citizens.

    And that’s the crux of the issue: can we really trust our government to just play referee, or will whatever is proposed as “net neutrality” go beyond refereeing and into monitoring and documenting communications?

    This is an important issue, far more important than most people realize, because the internet is currently one of the least regulated, information access methods ever created. And while there are plenty of misinformation and simply wrong information, there is a huge amount of information which the ordinary person would never be able to access or share any other way.

    Actually, WikiLinks is an example of this – when else in history could one person have shared tens of thousands of documents with the world? Right or wrong, WikiLinks is an example of how powerful a free internet really is. All arguments about the ethics of releasing the documents aside, if the U.S. military doesn’t want its dirty laundry shared, it needs to better secure its data.

  3. The problem with libertarianism, socialism. capitalism and communism is that the concept doesn’t quite work out when large numbers of real people are involved. Libertarians are anarchists afraid to call themselves such.

  4. 1. Tim Berners-Lee is closer to 55 than 31.
    2. “Net neutrality” is a term with many meanings. Until it is specifically defined in law, a task that is unlikely to satisfy anyone, it seems dangerous to intrude more government regulation into a technology the direction of which no one seems able to predict. Government regulation is generally, among other things, a tool that allows the big players in an industry to create obstacles to the entry of new players. It creates rigidity and is antithetical to the nature of the internet.

  5. Umm….Derisive, punning name calling and personality hatred are hardly the mark of an adult, intelligent, and effective approach to arriving at a way to formulate an effective governing strategy for a nation.
    I am sure some would have accused me of such during the Bush 43 administration, however I did not and don’t hate the man, hell I don’t even know him. Most certainly I was totally appalled and angry at many of his policies and actions.
    Government is a necessity. Done correctly, Government protects freedoms. Setting monopolists and plutocrats free (less taxes! less government!) to do what they do, and make no mistake, their interests are not the same as the general public.
    So, yup, let the monopolists and plutocrats take control of the internet, after all, the “free” market is the solution to all problems, right? ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

  6. As a Libertarian and a technophile, and a web designer, I’m very concerned about the Net Neutrality issue. I don’t necessarily agree with the article, though, where the implication is made that Democrats and Republicans see the issue of openness differently. From everything I’ve seen, pretty much everyone believes that the Net should remain open, but Dems think the government will have to protect it, while the Republicans think that the Free Market will protect it. The article certainly got one thing right: it’s a confusing battle. Libertarians know that business can be every bit the enemy of the free market that government can, although usually it comes down to businesses and government trampling the free market hand in hand to their mutual benefit. My feeling on it at this time is, I don’t want the government to step in unless it’s absolutely necessary, but I can see that certain businesses may push it to be so if we, the consumers, let them. The problem is, at least currently, there isn’t enough competition for ISPs in most areas of the country. For instance, where I live, the only two high speed options are cable from Comcast and DSL from Qwest. The expansion of wireless technology will hopefully change this, however. The important thing now is that we don’t rush to have government fix something that hasn’t been broken yet. If we go down that road, we’ll never get back what we gave away.

    Oh, and Progressive Agent Provocateur, your ignorance is showing. Yes, Socialism and Communism don’t work. Capitalism, while not perfect, is without a doubt, the best system humans have developed to date. To quote the late, great Milton Friedman, “The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm. Capitalism is that kind of system.”

  7. That said, we usually prefer the government to be hands-off wherever possible, Laissez-faire, except in cases where the free market obviously cannot adequately self-regulate (antitrust, for just one example).

    Pretty big exception, there.

  8. Three forms of government:

    Democrat – Nobody can do anything that remotely adversely affects me or anyone else.
    Republican – I can do what I want and everyone else can do what I want.
    Libertarian – I can do what I want and everyone else can go fsck themselves.

  9. The crux of the issue is “Whose property is the internet?” I would think about the question with a parallel question: “Whose property are roads?”. The answer is “the peoples”, that is they are common property for everyone to use and no one may charge others to use them. I suppose you could build a private road and charge others for use, but I’m sure only a few destinations would be served by the free market road builder. And you sure wouldn’t be allowed to build the only road to a piece of property, be free to charge whatever you wanted for access and be protected from anyone else building another road.

    It’s OK to charge for bandwidth, IMHO, but the price structure must be the same for all comers, bits is bits. No varied structure that favors your own content or disadvantages the bits for text messages over the bits for voice calls. That would be Net Neutrality, as I see it. But who will oversee the bandwidth sellers, if not government?

  10. Yeah, having no laws worked so well for the telecom industry. How many laws had to be passed again, to prevent Ma Bell from abusing her monopoly?

    True freedom is a delicate balance between rules and rulelessness. Like traffic laws, we need the right rules in place to ensure that we have the best combination of law and liberty, for as many people as possible.

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