Special interests and the extreme left groups like the ACLU are organizing an internet “Day of Action” today in order to push for government control of the internet through so-called “net neutrality” public utility provisions.
First of all, let’s get one thing straight: the “save net neutrality” movement has been politicized and bandied about recklessly. Utility regulations are not “neutral”; in fact, quite the opposite, because if the government is allowed to regulate the internet as a utility, they will influence who wins and who loses. More regulations invariably lead to less innovation and less competition. Invariably.
The one thing that the internet has conclusively proven is that the free flow of ideas is a good thing. And there are literally thousands of network providers to the internet (telephony based, cable based, fiber based, satellite based & wireless based). One of the talking points for those wanting to keep the Obama-era regulations alive is that big internet providers will restrict content they don’t like and/or that companies won’t pay providers for. There was that same thought process when online publications put up paywalls. Guess what happened? The market adjusted. Some media companies have paywalls. Others don’t. The ones that don’t, get more traffic. The ones that do get compensated for their content in a different way. Neither is better or worse. The market just does its thing. And if there are overly restrictive network providers, which I personally view as highly unlikely, there will be providers there that see that market need and fill the gap. But utility regulation is a solution in search of an actual problem.
The 1990s and 2000s
Let’s back up: Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the internet flourished under free-market conditions. As dot-com entrepreneurs did not need to abide by any burdensome new federal regulations, they were free to experiment, refine, and introduce their products and services without the usual red tape and delays that characterize other marketplaces. And people loved it all the more because of this pioneering spirit.
That model yielded e-commerce, social networking, streaming video, tablets, smartphones, broadband and more in just about two decades. The sheer speed of innovation was incredible. Imagine what else could be around the corner if government stays out of the way.
The Internet Under Obama
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared that the internet would now be regulated under Title II, a product of the 1934 Communications Act. Think about that—they used an 80-year-old law to seize control of the web, something that would not exist until decades after it was passed. That law was intended for Ma and Pa Bell; using it for the internet was blatant exploitation.
Why did the FCC under President Obama make this move? It was an end around. They wanted government to have much more power over the internet, and they knew Congress would not pass legislation giving it to them.
21st Century Legislation for a 21st Century Technology
Today’s “net neutrality” freakout is simply over the fact that a Trump administration is seeking to undo an Obama era administration injustice of using a 80+ year old law to seize regulatory control over an industry that doesn’t need it. In fact, in the two years since the public utility pronouncement, investment in broad band networks is down more than 5 percent.
But FCC action is fickle and like we are seeing now can change from administration to administration. Sen. John Thune did a good job of laying out the arguments. The real fix is to legislate that in fact internetworking providers are not subject to Title II. Members of Congress are debating this fix right now. It’s going through the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of which Senator Roger Wicker is a high ranking member.