Latest posts by Jesse Hathaway (see all)
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The Federal Communications Commission will soon vote to undo net neutrality, an Obama-era power grab. Despite many claims to the contrary, this move by the FCC would be the right decision for consumers and end the agency’s micromanagement of the internet.
Analysts expect the FCC on Dec. 14 to roll back a 2015 policy called the Open Internet Order, in which the FCC determined it possesses the legal authority under the Telecommunications Act of 1934 to regulate internet service providers (ISPs) using rules intended for phone companies and electric companies.
The rules, commonly referred to as “net neutrality rules,” were initiated by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who served under President Obama. Before Wheeler decided to take over the internet, ISP regulation was successfully handled for decades by the Federal Trade Commission. Wheeler’s order put five unelected government regulators at the FCC between consumers and ISPs, drastically expanding FCC’s power.
Over the past decade, the debate over net neutrality has been warped by activists who support government having a significant role in the operation of the internet. When properly defined, net neutrality has traditionally meant consumers should be able to access the legal content they want using the legal applications and devices they want. For example, a network owned by Spectrum Cable should not be permitted to block data going to and from an AT&T customer’s router.
The present debate has virtually nothing to do with this idea, however. Instead of being a fight over anti-competitive business practices, today’s net neutrality debate is about something called “paid prioritization,” a technical term used to describe an agreement between a content provider and a network owner. Under a paid prioritization agreement, a content provider’s data can travel on less-congested network routes in exchange for an agreed-upon fee.
Like taking a toll road, when networks are clogged with data during high-traffic times of the day, prioritization agreements allow consumers to receive requested data faster. All kinds of data — emails, funny cat videos, your Twitter feed — travel over the internet, but some data types are more tolerant of delays or temporary congestion than others.
The bits comprising an email don’t need to arrive at a recipient’s computer all in the same order they were sent in, but other kinds of data, such as video or audio, are less tolerant of delays. Receiving the data bits in the wrong order or at the wrong time can cause distortions, stutters and other playback problems.
Imposing net neutrality on the internet is similar to empowering the U.S. Department of Transportation to mandate no one is allowed to pay to travel along well-maintained toll roads instead of a clogged government-funded highway during rush hour. Instead of mandating “neutrality,” when FCC created the net neutrality rules, it imposed the equality of mediocrity for internet content providers.
By getting government out of the business of telling ISPs how to run their networks, the current FCC is working hard to undo the agency’s past excesses, putting consumers and private businesses back in charge of how the internet operates.
[Originally Published at Investor’s Business Daily]