Latest posts by Andrew Barr (see all)
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House Republicans’ recent attempt of June 15 to eliminate funding for the FCC’s “Open Internet Order” is the most recent of many objections to the Commission’s support of the plan known as “net neutrality.” An amendment to the Financial Services Appropriation bill which passed in the House, the proposed funding cut is not expected to survive, as President Obama has vowed to wield his veto pen in favor of the highly controversial Order.
Of the many malapropisms that clutter the airwaves and mass media, the term “net neutrality” is among the worst. It might be better translated into “regulation” or “communization” of the internet, rather than a matter of free speech, as it is often touted by its proponents. The Heartland Institute sums up the issue very well:
Supporters of net neutrality legislation seek to expand the Federal Communications Commission’s regulatory powers over the Internet through new mandates that would define and regulate access to the Internet. The proposal would prevent network providers from providing tiered service, where customers could pay for different levels of access. This is, essentially, a crude form of a price control.
The “net neutrality” debate revolves around the expansion of the internet; as the web grows larger and larger, financial ventures concerned with capacity increases become more and more lucrative. Some estimates say that web capacity expansion could be worth as much as much as $100 billion in upcoming years. As a nation whose economic headaches are far from over, growth in the web capacity industry promises a much needed boost to an ailing economy.
Naturally, one would think that in order to encourage such a venture, the government would condone, even incentivize investment and development. But much of the competition that drives innovation could not exist under net neutrality, as network operators and internet service providers (ISPs) would be severely restricted in terms of the control they exert over their bandwidth; in this sense, it is more a property rights issue than one of free speech.
Network operators and ISPs would be unable to charge customers different amounts for different speeds, or to initiate tiered systems that could result in more access for more users. Net neutrality advocates rally around the idea of universal “equality” when it comes to internet speed price, but in reality, an inherent disparity exists between different websites.
Google, Yahoo and other well-funded sites can afford more servers and higher bandwidths. Just how would a massive bandwidth user like YouTube be able to exist in an internet where all data is treated equal?
When closely examined, the precepts of net neutrality seem to fall contrary to the fundamental values upon which the United States was founded; a free, competitive environment that rewards strong and successful business models, the work of visionaries and risk-takers. America’s capitalist system does not allow for stagnation or mediocrity.
It has been the “survival of the fittest” mentality that has allowed the internet to progress and grow into what it is today, an entity that did not come into existence by making businesses unable to protect their investments or making sure everyone gets an equal share of something for free.
This idea of equality is clearly of paramount importance to the government and to the FCC, who according to the Pittsburgh Valley Independent
“…voted to impose net-neutrality rules despite a federal appellate court’s ruling that it lacks authority to regulate the Internet.”
Non-profit watch group Judicial Watch has also asserted that the FCC, a body tasked with promoting “robust competition and innovation in the telecommunications marketplace” has collaborated with the far-left group Free Press, citing the commission’s 3-2 Democrat controlled board of directors, less than exemplary chairman and previous willingness to flagrantly disregard the law.
Despite this, scores of activists and legislators like Senator Al Franken continue to push for net neutrality. Franken calls it “the Free Speech Issue of our Time” according to Powerline. He talks extensively of “saving the internet” from “powerful corporations” seeking to fulfill political agendas.
Franken seems to miss the point- business is all about fulfilling agendas, one in particular- turning a profit. Net neutrality prevents businesses from choosing their business model and controlling it, effectively destroying any chance for economic expansion or gains.
For the FCC, a tremendous degree of self-assuredness (some might say “pomposity”) is required to take on the job of building a regulatory framework that encompasses an entity as vast and unpredictable as the internet. ISPs and network providers know what’s best for the market; they know that people who want the fastest service will be willing to pay.
It’s the same with cable television or satellite radio. If consumers don’t want to pay for extra channels or specialty broadcasting, they have the option of choosing another less expensive alternative (in the case of ISPs, the 3rd tier option). The absurdity of net neutrality can also be compared to the sale of gasoline; imagine if oil companies couldn’t price differentiate based on the quality or type of gasoline; there would be absolutely no incentive to market cleaner or more efficient types of fuel.
There are a number of factors that make the net neutrality issue worrisome. As exhibited by the notorious Comcast v FCC, the FCC has shown a willingness to ignore a court ruling prohibiting the enforcement of net neutrality. Additionally, the fact that Congress has never given the FCC explicit authority to regulate the internet in the way it is should give freedom-loving people everywhere pause.
The actions of Franken and other neutrality supporters, framing neutrality as a matter of “free speech” rather than one of corporate property rights serves only to cloud the issue, turning it into an emotion struggle between the “establishment and the “people.”
There are few who dispute the need for economic growth in this dark period in the life of our nation’s economy, and support for net neutrality only serves to restrict and limit the broadening of the World Wide Web.