Farhad and Mike’s Week in Tech: Net Neutrality Is Gone

Each week, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.

Mike: Good day to you, Farhad! Are you enjoying holiday party season? I haven’t gone to any so far, but I plan on making up for that by going to three in a row this evening. Is there such a thing as “nog overdose”?

Farhad: Mike, nobody’s buying your act. “Nog overdose” is practically your middle name at this time of the year. Please nog responsibly.

Mike: Right, well, I’ll be sure to pop a few Lactaids before my magical journey this evening. (Also, to be clear, eggnog is disgusting.)

O.K., we should get into tech news this week! Let’s start with the obvious: net neutrality. On Thursday, the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, rolled back a set of rules that guaranteed an open internet for Americans, a sweeping move that basically the entire internet is mad about. Before the vote, researchers found that millions of the comments supporting the move on the F.C.C.’s website were actually fake bots. That did little to stop the agency from moving forward.

Pai’s stance is to say it’s pro-competition to unravel regulations. Pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley says that that’s bogus and that consumers will lose, while big corporations like Comcast will have free rein to jack up prices for different types of internet services. I fall in the latter camp.

Farhad: Well, you’re right that everyone in Silicon Valley is against this repeal, but I think it’s interesting to note the shift in intensity. In the past, the tech giants, especially Google, took a much more forceful approach to defend such regulations.

As I’ve argued, net neutrality is now not very important to the giants. In fact, because it protects start-ups from large companies, the biggest tech companies might be better off under the new neutrality-free rules. And as it turns out, the biggest tech companies have taken a back seat in the fight, as you and several of our colleagues reported this week.

Mike: Well, yeah. As an aside, Pai really seems to want to be liked by people, going as far as to create a parody video with a supportive publication. I don’t think it’s working.

So, what say you here? I assume you’re with me, though since you like to be contrarian on occasion perhaps you’re going to go for the pro-Pai argument?

Farhad: I think it’s bad for the internet. I don’t think the end of net neutrality will spark an immediate change, but instead it will be a gradual corporatization. Slowly, big internet and telecom companies will have more and more of a say over what we do online, and start-ups will face a tougher time. Over the long run, the internet will become more like cable TV — you’ll pay for different bundles of services.

Mike: Yes, well, I’m already starting to throw my spare change in a Mason jar labeled “Netflix fees” in my kitchen.

Moving on, I wanted to get into a slightly wonky, somewhat overlooked section of the internet: Patreon and the uproar among its creative community.

If you aren’t familiar, Patreon is basically a payments platform used by artists and creative types, where they can charge or offer subscriptions to people for the types of things they produce. It ranges from writers and humorists to artists, journalists, crafty people, gamers — really whatever service you think people will pay to receive. It’s been growing, and has an indie flair to an ancient practice. (“Patrons” were quite common among artists hundreds of years ago.)

Anyway, that whole community went nuts when Patreon abruptly changed its fee structure recently, imposing what many called undue fees and really messing up the economics for many artists who came to rely on the platform. It didn’t take long for the company to do an abrupt about-face and “press pause” on the structure change. Who knows if that lasts?

Farhad: I was watching this closely. I think the rise of Patreon is one of the most interesting things on the internet in the last couple of years. Internet ads have proved to be a terrible business model for most online content; by paying artists directly through services like Patreon, we’re seeing a much more vibrant community of podcasters, video makers and other artists online.

But Patreon is also a business that has promised huge gains to its investors, so it’ll be interesting to see how it manages these two audiences. This time it seemed to go too far in the direction of its investors; perhaps now that it’s been burned, it’ll keep a closer eye on its indie artists.

Mike: Finally, let’s talk a little more about Bitcoin. I apologize in advance, since it’s pretty much the only thing finance that Twitter can think about these days. There’s even a ticker on CNBC for the price of Bitcoin now!

Anyway, I had a theory the other day that revolves around the user interface of Coinbase, one of the most popular exchanges for buying Bitcoin and other digital currencies in the United States. Basically it went like this: The price of one Bitcoin is staggeringly high right now, somewhere around $17,000. My guess is that high price will make the two currencies that you can also buy in Coinbase — Ether and Litecoin — more attractive to casual consumers who really don’t know anything about digital currency except that it’s something that they could make money off of.

Since the price of Ether and Litecoin are exponentially lower than Bitcoin at the moment, I predicted people would start buying those en masse. Sure enough, a day later, both of the other currencies experienced a run-up in price.

Yes, this is an extended way of saying, “Look how smart I am.” But also, it’s more: Do you think we’re basically creating artificial, overinflated value in these alternative currencies that really has no long-term staying power? And do we think a plethora of other, potentially scam alternative currencies may draft on the surging power of Bitcoin? (Hint: The answer is “yes.”)

Farhad: Uh, yes.

No, seriously, I think for once you have a point. There’s no earthly way that Litecoin becomes something people will use and consider valuable in the future. It’s obviously being run up by bubbly speculation. But Bitcoin? I think it’s got a chance.

Anyway, have fun with your nog. See you!

Mike: See you later!

Farhad Manjoo writes a weekly technology column called State of the Art. Mike Isaac covers Facebook, Uber and Twitter. You can follow them on Twitter here: @fmanjoo and @MikeIsaac.

Content originally published on https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/technology/farhad-mikes-week-tech-net-neutrality.html by FARHAD MANJOO and MIKE ISAAC