Is Sustainability a Bad Thing?

July 14, 2014
By: Gary Kim

Some think sponsored data, quality of service mechanisms or content delivery networks will narrow the scope of what is available to users on the Internet.

Such practices also are said to be inherently unfair because they favor firms with more money.

The argument about a “narrower” or “commercialized” Internet is, in some ways, odd.

Does it make sense to argue that today’s Internet apps and features really have “narrowed” value and choice, compared to the early days when bulletin boards and text chat essentially were the apps available using the Internet?

Are we worse off because new apps and services, with a commercial sustainability model, have been added? Really?

Conversely, would we be better off if all the innovation spurred by firms with a commercial sustainability model were outlawed? Really?

Some would argue the converse is true: we have had an explosion of useful apps and services precisely because suppliers have figured out ways to sustain delivery of those services and apps on an ongoing basis.

Some say it is dangerous that suppliers will produce more of what they can make money at, and less of features and products they do not make money at. Somehow, that “narrows” choice.

How much choice would people have if there were not sustainable revenue models for all the new apps and services?

Another frequent line of reasoning heard these days is that something should not be done because it favors bigger and wealthier companies.

In what markets do bigger and wealthier firms not enjoy advantages?

And in what markets do such firms not have those advantages because they likely have done the best job producing the combination of value and price that consumers have voluntarily chosen to buy?

Antitrust laws exist for a reason, of course. At some point, markets can become too dominated, with a loss of competition and the value that tends to produce for buyers and users.

But offering choice means people will choose. They tend to choose the products they think offer a better value-price bundle. Suppliers of those products gain market share and generate more revenue, which hopefully allows them to sustain the availability of their products over time.

The point is that competition always produces winners and losers. Losers (suppliers of products without sufficient demand) must be allowed to fail, just as much as winners (suppliers of products with higher demand) must be allowed to succeed. That’s how markets work.

Yes, there always is a danger, at some point, of winners unfairly rigging markets. That is why we have antitrust laws.

But the notion that consumers and citizens are somehow worse off because new products have sustainable resource models is questionable, if not worse.

Sustainability and choice require resource models, period.


Edited by Rory J. Thompson