Ross Parker asks whether I am in favour of markets, a question prompted by my call for regulation of the ISPs to stop them imposing a two-speed Internet. My response is in the comments at Ross's blog, or you can read it below.
Am I in favour of markets? I am in favour of freedom of choice. That freedom is very often best expressed and protected by a free market, so I am very often in favour of free markets. Where market freedoms can only be secured, or market failures only avoided, by regulation I am in favour of regulation. The market is a means not an end.
The Internet is a market – a market for websites, content, ideas. As such it is currently the most important market in the world – so vastly more important than the market for selling connections that if it’s necessary to regulate the latter so as to guarantee the freedom of the former I am in favour of that regulation.
And I think in this instance that regulation is necessary. For the Internet to function effectively as a market for ideas, its users must be free to choose. This isn’t like crossing the street to shop at WalMart because Trader Vic’s only stocks one brand of cola or switching from Fox News to Channel 4 on the remote. A household has one ISP for Internet access and changing it has such significant friction costs no-one can realistically vote with their feet every time their ISP decides the BBC hasn’t paid enough so iPlayer isn’t going to work. More to the point, new ideas that have yet to come up with a cash model simply wouldn’t be able to pay so the next Google would never be able to compete with the current one (this is not a new idea – Cory Doctorow keeps making this point better than I can).
So yes, I am in favour of markets, as a means to an end, and I am in favour of them working properly. Currently this one can only work if it is regulated. Not the first time that’s happened, won’t be the last.