I am part of the Internet generation. You know who we are. We’re the ones who can’t imagine a pre-Internet world where you had to open a clunky book to find the information you wanted. We are glued to our phones because our lives revolve around them.
So when I first heard of “net neutrality,” I was completely on board. As far as I knew, net neutrality was the idea that Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, should not alter your Internet usage experience by slowing down or outright blocking data. As someone who had to briefly switch back to a 3G phone for a couple of months, I understand how much slow Internet sucks.
But somewhere along the line, I dug deeper and found out that Net Neutrality couldn’t just be a good idea; it had to have strings attached. The commonly referred to definition of net neutrality among supporters includes a number of heavy government regulations. Proponents of the strings-attached net neutrality believe that the federal government should take an active role in regulating the Internet by passing laws that will, among many things, make it illegal for ISPs to block or slowdown data. Furthermore, supporters want to see the FCC head the regulation.
First, a brief backstory in neutrality-related laws.
There have been a few neutrality bills have graced the floors of Congress, only to be swiftly killed. The first was the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006, sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). In this act, Wyden lays down the primary pillars for most of the net neutrality legislation that would follow: prohibition of ISPS from blocking or slowing down data, a set of rules on how ISPS must manage their networks, and a provision that allows data blockage only for the purpose of preventing adware, spam, spyware, and other types of bad data that help Geek Squad make million every year.
The second bill came from Texas Representative Joe Barton (R) who essentially proposed a sort of bill of rights for ISP subscribers, A.K.A. Internet users. But even this bill was killed.
Most recent bills, such as the Internet Preservation Acts of 2009 from Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) prohibits, much like the others before it, ISPs from “discriminating against users, prioritizing the traffic of any particularly traffic provider, or imposing certain change on any Internet content, service, or applications provider.”
So, as you can tell, all of these bills have the same idea. However, President Obama, who views Congress as an incompetent and slowly-acting thorn in his side, has today come out in support of a backdoor method of achieving Net Neutrality. His focus: reclassifying the Internet as a public utility.
Currently, ISPs are classified as providers of information services. But if President Obama and his like-minded net neutrality supports had their way, the FCC would instead reclassify ISPs under Title II of the Communications Acts of 1934, thus changing their classification to a provider of telecommunications services. Other types of services that fall under that category include electricity, gas, and phone lines. And as Erik Telford points out in a recent article for The Blaze earlier this month, placing ISPs under that classification makes little to no sense.
“These types of regulations make sense for electric, gas, and landline phone service, since there isn’t a way for the utility companies to deliver [those services] to your home in a significantly more innovative way than competitors who use the same technology and infrastructure to deliver the same product,” Telford writes.
Telford then goes on to say, “ISPs aren’t ‘common carriers’ like the phone company—they’re private companies competing with one another.”
The first and primary argument against strict net neutrality is, as Telford argues, that such regulations will go against free market principles, therefor slowing innovation.
Another issue with the increasing concern over net neutrality is that it is a flawed attempt to solve a crisis that is not real. According to Reason contributor and George Mason University professor of economics, Thomas Hazlett, this is almost a case of Chicken Little.
“If you actually read the regulations the FCC put into place in 2010, they don’t have the actual evidence that this is happening,” Hazlett said.
He went onto explain that the only claim of a company going against net neutrality principles is the case of Metro PCS, a small cellphone company that was criticized by the FCC after they attempted to improve the quality of video streaming over their older and outdates network. In this particular case, they were not trying to screw over their customers. They were trying to give their customers more value by improving the quality of their service!
What this really comes down to is whether or not the federal government should heavily regulate the Internet to solve a problem that isn’t real and to give ISPs less of an incentive to innovate by developing new Internet delivery systems, such as fiber optics.
For me, the answer is complicated, but it fall somewhere in the middle. Internet providers should not be slowing down or blocking data delivery, which is why they haven’t. But, if we must talk about what to do in case ISPs decide to rise up against their customers, I think we should get a few things straight.
First, we have to recognize that Congress has the power to regulate the Internet, not the unelected leaders of the FCC. But Congress should only exercise that power, in the lightest form possible, when the threat is real. The government should have a feather-touch when dealing with the free market.
Secondly, the FCC should not reclassify the Internet as a public utility. It is not a logical choice and will only result in the same kinds of negative effects that were caused by overregulation of the phone companies.
And finally, as a general rule, we should invest more faith in the free market to naturally prohibit the data blockage that everyone is so scared about. Because for those who understand how free markets work, it’s understood that if customers do not like the business practices of a firm, they stop transactions with said firm.
But for now, the debate will intensify thanks to President Obama throwing his opinion in for consideration. Let’s just hope the levelheaded side wins. And by that, I mean the side who doesn’t think the government should be there to save us from anything and everything. The side who believe that people are smart enough to control the market and tell firms what they want.
Featured image from Save The Internet
What do you think about net neutrality? Let us know in the comments below!