If you’re worried about net neutrality, put your reputation on the line and make a prediction about the future

It is now been a year since network neutrality rules supported by Title II were officially repealed, marking the end of the Obama-era legislation. Writing in Wired, Klint Finley noted that, “The good news is that the internet isn’t drastically different than it was before. But that’s also the bad news: The net wasn’t always so neutral to begin with.”

At the time, many worried what would happen. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps suggested that two worlds were possible. “Will consumers and citizens control their online experiences, or will a few gigantic gatekeepers take this dynamic technology down the road of centralized control, toll booths and constantly rising prices for consumers?”

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor & publisher of The Nation warned that, “A broadband carrier like AT&T, if it wanted, might even practice internet censorship akin to that of the Chinese state, blocking its critics and promoting its own agenda.”

Senator Ed Markey even addressed the issue of apocalyptic messaging: “Don’t be fooled by the voices that say this is all doom and gloom & that the ISPs would NEVER block or throttle content. Mark my words, without #NetNeutrality, these are not alarmist & hypothetical harms. They are real, & without #NetNeutrality they may become the new normal.”

Each of these statements is a testable prediction. And those that deeply care about the issue should be willing to make accurate predictions that can be tested at some near point in the future. What bothers me the most is that very few people are willing to bear reputational cost if they fail to correctly predict the future. To borrow a phrase Nassim Taleb, more people should have skin in the policy game.

Here is a set of questions to get the ball rolling. In three years from this week, we should be willing to come back to settle up and see who was right.

  • A large ISP, as defined by more than 1 million subscribers, will explicitly block political speech.  
  • A large ISP will explicitly throttle an upstream content site.
  • A large ISP will demand additional payment from an upstream content site, separate from transit negotiations.
  • Beginning in January 2019, the Consumer Price Index for “Internet services and electronic information providers” (SEEE03) will begin to rise faster than the total CPI.

Why does this matter? Making nuanced predictions seems to diminish extreme views. A new paper from Barbara Mellers, Philip Tetlock, and Hal R. Arkes gives some context:  

The issue of network neutrality has become polarized. One way to mitigate that bifurcation is to put your reputation on the line and make a prediction about the future.

First published Dec 17, 2018