Friday, July 27, 2012

Net Neutrality and The Master Switch

I have been on the fence about “net neutrality”, but after reading Timothy Wu’s book on the information industries, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books). I am firmly in support of net neutrality. This is a great background read on the economics behind these industries. Wu cogently explains the long-held concept of a “common carrier”, and how allowing Internet Service Providers to discriminate against certain customers, the opposite of net neutrality, can only lead to the stifling of innovation. He covers the growth of the telephone industry, radio, movies, television, and the Internet.
The book provides a history of the development of those industries and the economic and political forces that lead to the establishment of large centralized firms, such as AT&T, NBC, CBS, and Paramount Picture, in each of those markets. These consolidations ended up slowly progress in those industries, with the prime example being AT&T and how it stopped answering machines, fax machines, and other innovations that could have come decades before they were finally introduced. Wu provides very strong arguments as to how any efforts to stop net neutrality would inevitably lead to unknown, but clearly bad, results.

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