Fred Wilson makes the argument (here and here) that net neutrality is a conservative idea. That’s correct, and that’s the problem.

My definition of “conservative” is “seeking to preserve accreted value”. It fights change, because change is considered dangerous. It is (perhaps rational) risk-aversion and loss-aversion.

For example, environmental protection is conservative. Preferring traditional marriage is conservative.

(You’ll note that people who support those respective ideas are not typically found within the same political tribe, which is my semantic point.)

Net neutrality wishes to “preserve the internet”. It wishes to lock in a certain model, believing that one is protecting value.

But the internet is not conservative. It allows for many unpredictable outcomes. It is emergent and adaptive.

To me, neutrality locks in the worst of the internet (last-mile monopoly) while hindering its best qualities (routing around damage).

Imagine it’s 1996, the internet is emergent. It is largely designed around discrete text protocols — email and HTTP and such. Binary data is supported, but pipes are narrow.

Now, companies start popping up to stream video over that network. Video was not considered in the network’s design — in 1996, video over IP is wildly inefficient. Coax cables can stream dozens of (analog) channels, but that modem on the phone line? Not so much.

So netizens quite reasonably wish to prevent this change. Imagine if bandwidth-hungry video providers crowd out those of us sending email! It’s an abuse of the network, greedy, and a departure from history. At the very least, the FCC should step in.

That’s a conservative case, and it looks a lot like the argument we are having today.