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. “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?”

    Actually, phone service was pretty good under the old system. BTW, there was also GTE and other small regional systems, not to mention local systems that tied into Bell.
    And don’t forget about Micrwave Communications, INC. handling a large chunk of long distance traffic during the ‘monopoly’.

  2. If Net Neutrality isn’t enacted, I guarantee my iTunes downloads will mysteriously start to creep along. Comcast is my ISP…..they have a competing download service…..hmmm……

  3. The cable industry was deregulated in 1993. How many of you have a competing cable company in your area now? Exactly – no one.

    Deregulation and the free market are not always the panaceas that Republicans make them out to be.

  4. Does “X” even own a computer? He/she sounds like someone who logs on at the library everyday.

    Just nasty partisan name calling on the political crap that keeps showing up here.

    X, I’m calling you out pal, tell us something about computers and Apple or we’ll know you are just and angry little pussy who’s found a tolerant place to spew.


  5. When I hear Team Blue use the term “plutocrat” I tend to dismiss the remainder of the post as quickly as when I hear Team Red use “sheeple”.

    In general, is the internet broken or working? Can anyone name a more effective technological means of communication devised by humans in history? In general, does government intrusion create only intended or usually unintended consequences? Do firms have incentives to be perceived as providing slower service than their competitors? In the current Endless War on a Tactic, how well have Americans limited scope-creep by government agencies into daily liberties?

    If libertarian techies are proposing to work against local governments offering exclusive license to favored companies in order to open the field to competition, then count this libertarian in.

    If the call is for more government licensing and regulation of existing services in an attempt at benevolent selfless fairness, I’d ask the proponents to research the term “regulatory capture” and ask how large favored corporations lobbying lawmakers will in any way prove superior to opening the market.

  6. I’m a democrat because I sympathize with their philosophies on liberty, there acceptance and inclusion of minorities. A socialist because i believe that a truely adavanced society should provide some social and Economic welfare principles so that people are not dying from disease and hunger.
    And a libertarian because I believe the government has no right to interfer with my personal rights to live as I choose, while obeying laws and not violating the rights of others, and as an artist forced to sympathize with Randian Objectivism because an artist must remain true to themselves, and themselves only. Expressing their truths and ideas without compromise.
    Net neutrality is only concievable only if we accept that access to the Internet is a right, not a privilege.
    Yes the companies that provide service are engaged in monopolistic practices, and provide no choice for consumers, but at the same time when healcare legislation passed that would grant rights to the consumers to protect themselves against predatory corporations people flipped their lids.
    My question is why do some value and defend their right to fast downloading and access to torrents while decring laws that would literally save people’s lives and let them live longer as a an evil socialist plot?
    To sum up, imagine the “tea-badgers” who protest healthcare reform while demanding the government to keep their “hands” off their Medicare.

  7. Say MDN, perhaps you should feature this story on your site? Might help you finally make up your minds:

    Cell carrier proposal would charge by site, break neutrality

    An excerpt: The approach would effectively let carriers force a reversion to a pre-smartphone model for mobile data, where access to the wider Internet is discouraged while carrier-owned web and media services artificially become the least expensive choices. Net neutrality violations would also come by letting carriers make it difficult or impractical to use services that threaten their established businesses, such as charging a premium for Hulu or iTunes to steer users back to any landline TV services they might have.

    I anxiously await justifications for this from “Hands Off The Internet” proponents (is this really what you want the mobile web to look like?) or Apple fans (as Apple would clearly not benefit from this).

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