I promised myself earlier in the year that I would not write about the net neutrality issue again. Now that topic has again appeared front and center at the FCC with the recent political changes. Therefore I am breaking that promise and once again venting about what should not even be a topic of concern. The whole net neutrality thing is all conjecture anyway. What problem is being solved? It is just trying to deal with problems that may, in some minds, occur in the future. In the meantime, who has been hurt to justify such regulatory action?
Net neutrality is the concept that all Internet traffic will be treated equally. That is one type of content will not be slowed in favor any other. Basically that is what we have now. No one is really deliberately slowing traffic. Different folks pay different rates for broadband service, the faster services costing more. Seems like that is how it should be. You pay for extra speed. What is wrong with that idea? It is just the way of business. It engenders innovation, competition and investment that are good.
That is not the way the FCC sees it. They want to control what the broadband suppliers can do. Big users of the Internet like Netflix, Google, Amazon, eBay, Silicon Valley, and others want the FCC to say who gets what. The broadband companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and the others want the FCC to stay out of it and let the natural free market practices take place. That has worked so far. Without any regulation the Internet has grown and everyone….everyone…. has prospered. Many fear that by imposing regulations on the Internet, it will slow growth and hamper innovation.
Over that past several years the FCC has tried to impose some regulations only to be defeated in court. But the FCC won’t give up. Their job is regulation and they feel impelled to regulate the biggest and best communications service ever. Many proposals have been put forth and there have been millions of comments filed with the FCC. As usual, it is political policy that is dividing the public and the industry. Democrats want the regulation, the power and control over the Internet. The Republicans do not want any regulation so that free market action will dictate the future. Since the FCC basically answers to Congress, not the president, perhaps Congress should take some action to resolve this conflict.
Recently President Obama asked the FCC to pass laws that would regulate the Internet under what is called Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. That would classify the Internet as a utility and would then subject it to the rules that control the telecommunications industry. Such rules were structured for early 20th century railroad and telephone businesses and not the modern world. Who knows what negative impact that would have on the best invention in the last century? The unintended consequences could be disastrous. Let’s hope the president will not just issue an executive order as he said he would do for immigration reform.
Tom Wheeler, commissioner of the FCC who was appointed by the president, has had ideas of his own. To his credit he has been seeking a compromise solution with light regulation. He has apparently been listening to industry and trying to find some guidelines that would not kill the goose that laid the golden egg. That is in opposition to what the president wants. Maybe a compromise can be structured. At least the FCC said it would not decide the matter this year. That is a good idea.
What I keep wondering is what the FCC will do if it does declare the Internet a utility. What will the rules say or do? There is no way to equalize speeds. So does regulation just mean no throttling? Or what? Just how will all traffic be treated equally? Doesn’t that need to be explained first? Will logic and common sense dominate or just the usual half truths and obfuscation? Will we get the Obamacare version of Internet regulation that us citizens are too stupid to understand?
Anyway, for what it is worth, my recommendation is to avoid Title II at all cost and leave the Internet alone. Be careful what you ask for or you could suffer a lifetime of increasing regulations. To do nothing is a good decision. And if problems do occur, we already have regulations in place with the Federal Trade Commission to deal with them.