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If you’re reading this, the Internet is still functioning. This is contrary to what many on the left predicted when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality regulations on December 14, 2017. Now, many state governments are attempting to reinstate net neutrality laws through potentially unconstitutional processes. If they are successful, it could be the end of the Internet as we know it.
Net neutrality sounds fair and balanced, but the government picking winners and losers in the marketplace is anything but. The FCC imposed these heavy-handed regulations in 2010 by adopting the Open Internet Order and strengthened them in 2015 by voting to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. These regulations were essentially classified ISPs as “common carriers” or utilities, much like your water or sewer. Under Title II, ISPs were no longer able to throttle or prioritize data for content providers like Netflix or Facebook. This would leave ISPs, who know best what their customers want and how bandwidth works, unable to give customers the best experience possible. This heavy-handed regulation would also lead to a decrease of innovation and investment in the telecommunications sector.
It’s important to make the distinction between the principle of net neutrality and net neutrality regulations. The principle, insisting that broadband customers be able to access any content available on the Internet with their service, is not necessarily a bad thing. ISPs have incentives to be neutral with data. This is best illustrated by Comcast Corp. v. FCC. In 2007, Comcast interfered with subscriber’s connections to peer-to-peer networking applications like BitTorrent. Comcast was pressured by their subscribers and ridiculed in the media until they stopped the practice. The FCC didn’t get involved until after Comcast had already neutralized the situation.
Net neutrality regulations, however, put unelected bureaucrats, many times without actual experience in telecommunications, in charge of the Internet. That’s like putting Congress in control of healthcare without consulting doctors or nurses.
Liberals praised the FCC for implementing net neutrality regulations in 2015. It turns out, the left only approves of unaccountable government agencies when they’re doing something they agree with. After the FCC’s vote to free the Internet, net neutrality advocates made racist smears toward FCC chairman Ajit Pai and even brought his children into the spotlight.
Liberals adore net neutrality for all the wrong reasons. Many claim that it’s necessary for the Internet to thrive, but was it wasn’t failing before 2015. Others say that it’s not fair for content companies like Netflix or Hulu to pay more for “fast lanes.” Another example of this type of paid prioritization can be seen in your supermarket where manufacturers enter into agreements with stores to pay more for prime shelf space. Private companies have a right to conduct business however they see fit. If customers don’t like it, they can switch providers and then the company will change its ways once a mass exodus of customers occurs. Lastly, and my favorite argument to debunk, is that there aren’t enough ISPs to provide competition. Nothing stifles competition more than onerous regulations like net neutrality. These regulations lower the standard for speed and data consumption technology, so Comcast would no longer have a reason to try to be faster than Verizon.
While Congress mulls a Congressional Review Act to overturn of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, states are taking matters into their own hands. States such as California, Washington, New York, and, most recently, Oregon, are attempting to implement net neutrality regulations on a more local level. While these state orders don’t outright ban throttling or prioritizing data, they prevent ISPs from obtaining state contracts unless they follow net neutrality principles.
States regulating the Internet sets a dangerous precedent. Having a patchwork of regulatory frameworks goes against the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. While the federal government often stretches the meaning of interstate commerce, the Internet is clearly a vehicle for it. The FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order preempted state and local laws regarding net neutrality, but states are trying to evade it by not outright forcing ISPs to follow net neutrality principles and instead favoring those that do.
It’s plain and simple: free-market conservatives should oppose heavy-handed regulations regardless of whether they come from state or federal governments. If we allow unelected bureaucrats to control the Internet, there’s no limit to what they can control. If we allow states to do whatever they want without considering interstate complications, we may not have an Internet.