It’s really a damn shame that this whole Internet thing hasn’t worked out, owing to a lack of “net neutrality.”
You know, what with us not having strict, Title II regulation of the Internet by the FCC, this whole online thing is an absolute failure, am I right?
If you know nothing else about the issue of “net neutrality” consider this: Supporters say we need strict, government regulation of the Internet to ensure it’s open, and that innovation is not stifled.
Spin that around your mind-brain a little. They’re saying we need heavy-handed regulation to ensure freedom and innovation.
Oh, and since we haven’t had net neutrality, apparently all the Internet freedom and technological innovation we’ve had, well it doesn’t exist.
Going on seven years now, supporters of net neutrality have been carping on about how we need it to keep the Internet free and open. And for seven years, without it, the Internet has been just that – free and open and with few problems.
Trust me, I know these things. I work at the Internet.
President Obama’s call on Monday for strict, Title II regulation is the last gasp of a lame duck trying to remain relevant. The fact that the National Association of Realtors jumped in to support this, the most draconian version of net neutrality, is perplexing. Why would such a large trade group throw support behind this idea, as if it is the only option to correcting the current way the Internet operates?
Title II of the Communications Act was written for government-granted, government regulated monopolies. The idea was that “natural monopolies” like telephone, water and electric services would make heavy investments in infrastructure, and in return they would get a blessing for the monopoly and a guaranteed return on the investment, but they wouldn’t be allowed to charge monopoly prices. It was understood these were not dynamic industries.
In 1998, the FCC smartly rejected Title II regulations, with the chairman then saying to Congress, “Classifying Internet access services as telecommunications services could have significant consequences for the global development of the Internet. We recognize the unique qualities of the Internet, and do not presume that legacy regulatory frameworks are appropriately applied to it.”
At any given time there’s a finite amount of bandwidth available. It can be allocated by one of two ways – by fiat that says everyone has equal rights to infinite amounts, or by market pricing. Since there is no such thing as any resource that is infinite – including bandwidth, we have to live here in reality and recognize that the best way to allocate it is the second choice – market pricing.
Thus if Netflix or Hulu is sucking up 80% of the bandwidth, it makes sense that it should have to pay a higher toll. It’s not right to spread that cost to every other customer who may not even have Netflix.
There’s no evidence of any market failure in allocation now or in the past. And when there is demonstrable harm or ill intent by ISPs, the FCC already has the power to act.
ISPs should be able to discriminate in pricing. The Communications Act grants the FCC power to take administrative actions when the public is being harmed.
The internet is and always has been open – codifying and cementing in place rules that have been handled more nimbly by administrative processes makes no sense, unless your desire is to make everyone pay for your bandwidth eating services.
Neither Congress nor the FCC nor the White House should tell ISPs how to run their businesses if they aren’t harming consumers.
And locking in rules now, in the hard cement that is government regulation, means locking the Internet into a 2014 model. The Internet of 2014 looks very different than what it will look like in 2018 or 2025.
Net neutrality locks in an untenable status quo. If it seems like telecoms have an unfair market advantage – that’s actually true. But it’s not really a market advantage. What they have are sweetheart deals arising from government intruding into the market. If you want to take away that advantage and level the playing field more, the answer is not more intrusion and regulation – it’s more deregulation.
These ancient telecom regulatory schemes gave us decades of Ma Bell, rotary phones that came in any color as long as it was black, and phone companies as responsive as the post office.
Imposing this same kind of thinking, regulation and constraint on ISPs will ensure an Internet as innovative and exciting as the DMV.
Fortunately, the FCC doesn't answer to the White House or the NAR, and there are at least a few people on the FCC who understand the best thing they can do is stay out of the way.
Let's hope they get the Internet a little better, if only for a better Internet.