Irony on the Internet

For many years, the debate has raged over so-called “network neutrality”. I recall discussions at telephony industry conferences a decade ago about it. Even then, companies such as Google were in favor of imposing it, and AT&T and others were against.

Network neutrality is a regulatory scheme to force Internet Service Providers to carry all content, regardless of cost or any other considerations of the ISPs. In network neutrality, the government picks winners and losers. Content providers such as Google are to be anointed (for now) with the label of the “Public Interest”. ISPs such as Comcast are to be tarred as greedy corporations, who have no right to set their policies and prices based on their business interests.

At the time, I said the same idea could be moved up the value stream. Google could be targeted, not by the network neutrality regime, but by a new scheme based on the same principle. How would Google like it if it were forced to carry all ads, regardless of its business model or give them all equal priority? What would they say if they were prohibited from promoting their own ads?

A group called FairSearch.Org may give Google the opportunity to answer these questions.

This group is calling for policymakers to attack Google. It echoes Google’s call for policymakers to attack Comcast and AT&T. The leading sponsors of FairSearch include, unsurprisingly, some large travel sites. These are companies that may be outcompeted in the business of booking hotels. Google is trying to make it easier for travelers. More importantly, Google may cut out these expensive middlemen.

Suppose that these travel sites succeed and Google is dragged down by regulations, not allowed to compete against the likes of Hotwire and Expedia, because it’s “anti competitive”.[1] Where would the next regulatory attack come?

I wonder if Hotwire and Expedia give equal access to different hotels, or alternatives to hotels such as hostels or Bed and Breakfasts. I bet these big travel sites have business models that favor one type of business and disfavor others. I bet they are like Google now, and like Comcast and AT&T before Google. They want to make money, and they want to run their businesses their way.

Could there not be a FairHotelSearch.Org funded by someone in the lodging industry? Could they not call for policymakers to fix the unfairness of it all, to fix the universe or at least that portion of it owned by the enemies of those particular lodging companies?

Stay tuned. If FairSearch.Org succeeds, then that will come next. It may take a few years, but the same principle can move further up the value chain. There is no limit to the size of the universe, nor of the amount of irony it can contain.

Pretty soon, the US may arrive at the destination of perfect Social Democracy. No one can offer anything new, without the approval of everyone else. In practice, this means no one can offer anything new because every new offer will impact an existing business or existing job somewhere.


[1] As best I can tell, the meaning of this meaningless term is: too competitive, because the term is always used to target the most competitive companies. Where else in our overstretched language is “anti” used to mean “too much”?

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