The net neutrality public debate is back, and this time with even more blatant disregard for common sense and consistency. A small minority of net neutrality proponents are consistently applying their own wrong-headed rule, but the majority have either misplaced their outrage or have conveniently retreated now that they see that a consistent application of the net neutrality rule would mean no free data offers.
The grumblers are back at it
In an effort to piggyback on the immense popularity of Pokémon Go, T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) has decided to offer one year's worth of free cellular data just for the game. Now only constrained by their cellphone's battery life, Pokémon trainers would be able to walk all around their cities catching and hatching the creatures and putting them to the test in the Pokémon gyms to their heart's content.
While most applauded T-Mobile for keeping up with the times and for the generous offer (even if it is a marketing scheme and not a pure gift), some weren't so appreciative. The grumblers say that T-Mobile's free data for Pokémon Go violates a net neutrality rule - that all data on the internet must be treated equally.
The year-old net neutrality debate
The debate last year centered around scenarios like Internet service providers (ISPs) allegedly throttling some data because it was too demanding for their infrastructure. The question arose whether some internet giants like Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) should be able to pay an extra fee to ISPs to stop throttling or even give their data a boost. The net neutrality proponents argued that ISPs should not throttle or charge different prices for different data.
Mises.org writers were unfortunately in the minority by saying such a rule diminishes consumers' sovereignty in the market for data and data delivery to their devices. If consumers are willing to pay for high definition movies with little to no buffering time, and if such service requires strenuous use of the ISPs' infrastructure, then different prices emerge to help firms allocate resources to uses that best satisfy consumers' wishes.
Why we can't have nice things
Now, T-Mobile is offering the opposite. Instead of charging extra for something that is technologically demanding on their end, they are charging less for something that might get them more customers. And despite some complaints regarding data usage, the Pokémon Go app is average relative to other apps' data intensity. Some over-eager players may be running up a large bill just because they are playing it so much and not using Wi-Fi when possible.
T-Mobile's prerogative to charge more for data is the same prerogative they have to charge less for data. At least some of the grumblers are consistent in the application of their net neutrality rule, even if their rule ultimately serves against their own interests.
But the fact that there is not nearly as much outrage over T-Mobile's free data offer as there was last year when this debate was in full swing shows that public opinion on government policy is subject to severe cognitive biases.
New government rules are applauded and then ignored, criticized and then demanded, and all by the same individuals who base their reactions on visceral and emotional impulses rather than logical and clear-headed consideration.