That is one key way that information differs from matter or energy. And it matters to claims around net neutrality.

We share information without reducing it, in a way that we can’t share the hot water tank without reducing the hot water.

I’d like to draw attention to a comment thread on a previous article One commenter’s underlying assumptions are quite significant. He thinks the government has some kind of fundamental right to control public utilities. 


The actual story is more like this: Historically, there was a risk that the trickle down of public utilities in Western countries might be too slow. Put another way, one can’t have both free public health care and contaminated drinking water. Or not for long.

Eventually, the resulting co-dependent relationship between government and public utilities like drinking water turned into a toxic relationship in some places. But that is a story for another venue on another day.

The problem with net neutrality claims is that the Internet—essentially an information medium—does not work in the same way as public utilities conveying matter or energy. We can share information largely for free because information, unlike hot water, is not diminished by being shared.

One result is that historically disadvantaged groups are not less likely to access the Internet, in the same way that they might in the past have had less access to electricity or safe drinking water. So the traditional justifications for government control of utilities vanishes.

Social justice simply cannot be one of the serious goals of “net neutrality.”

Note: Speaking of historically disadvantaged groups, fifteen years ago I heard that some women in Bangladesh were making a living by buying cell phones and selling time on them on the street to people who did not have land lines. This recent article gives some sense of their type of enterprise.

People need free flow of information to be more free; whether they need more government is quite unclear.

See also:

Data Basic (an easy introduction to information science)

Five things to know about government’s proposed net neutrality (We may end up refighting the free speech battle.)

Net neutrality: The basics—what does it really mean? Is the Internet really just like a telephone service?

What’s this about Net Neutrality? Is it a good thing? It means more regulation of Internet prices and services, and price increases.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...