What Net Neutrality Says About Neoliberalism | Stanford Social Innovation Review

 

What Net Neutrality Says About Neoliberalism | Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Ever since political philosopher John Rawls, the justification for pro-business liberalism has been that we should consider any activity that makes even the least-privileged members of society better off a good thing. Outsourcing jobs to where labor is cheap, for example, is justified because everyone then has access to lower-cost goods. With Internet.org, Zuckerberg is making a similar Rawlsian argument: “If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all.” And, I think most technology cheerleaders—including people like Murthy—would agree in the abstract: It would be a terrific thing to provide Wikipedia free to millions of Indian people who otherwise couldn’t afford a data plan. (Though, for other reasons, that wouldn’t be as philanthropic as it sounds.)

What’s not so terrific, net neutrality proponents say, is the power of Facebook and Airtel to decide what’s free and what’s not. In effect, the claim is that some values are more important than giving more individuals access to Wikipedia for free—values such as consumers’ right to choose without corporate bias and small start-ups’ ability to compete with multinational firms.

But if that’s true, then why stop with the Internet? Aren’t there larger questions that apply to globalization overall? Is it possible that some values are more important than giving more individuals the ability to purchase goods at the lowest possible price? Values such as every person’s right to make a decent living or mom-and-pop stores’ ability to compete with Walmart? What’s interesting about net neutrality is that whether advocates realize it or not, it’s intimately tied to a larger debate: Are there social values that are more important than low-cost goods for consumers and corporate freedom in the market? If you’re for net neutrality, what you’re saying is, yes!”