Net neutrality


Not satisfied with stifling American medicine through crippling regulation, the federal government is also plotting a course that would drastically reduce innovation and investment in the Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission this week unveiled a new, wide-reaching, national broadband policy, with the goal of increasing overall speed and access.

The companies that provide broadband service have been doing just fine without having to answer to any bureaucracy's vision of their business. Randy Brown, AT&T's director of regulatory and legislative affairs for Nevada, points out that in 1999, there were just 105 U.S. companies offering broadband connections to the Internet. Today, he said, there are 1,400, and 98 percent of American ZIP codes have at least three broadband providers to choose from. About 95 percent of Americans have access to at least six wireless service providers, Mr. Brown said.

These businesses have poured hundreds of billions of dollars of upgrades into their networks to improve the reliability and speed that attract and keep customers.

As part of its broadband policy, however, the FCC embraces an idea known as "net neutrality." It would compel all broadband providers to treat every customer's data demands equally and would prohibit them from giving larger customers priority in exchange for higher access charges.

In other words, the government wants to control how communications giants operate their multibillion-dollar infrastructure, even though they built it themselves.

Imagine the Food and Drug Administration mandating that drive-through, fast-food customers not receive their meals before anyone who already ordered inside the restaurant.

It's a solution in search of a problem.

Internet service providers know their customers are a fickle lot. After all, consumers have lots of choices. If a company decides to sign on more subscribers than its network can accommodate without making corresponding investments in capacity, those subscribers won't stand for having their computers seize during routine browsing and searching. They'll jump ship. Companies have no incentive to hurt one group of paying customers in favor of another.

A market exists to charge a premium to guarantee the immediate delivery of huge volumes of content and information -- think videoconferencing and big data downloads and transfers -- so why shouldn't a business be free to enter it? Especially if it keeps costs down for smaller customers?

The FCC takes the position that it's not fair to make some schoolchild or retiree wait an extra quarter-second on rare occasions for their favorite Web site to load. And to make sure it doesn't happen, regulators want to turn to broadband Internet access into a commodity, into another public utility.

Rather than improve everyone's lot through perceived fairness, it will discourage investment, thereby reducing access and speed, and inevitably increase costs for most users.

Internet-related technologies are driving the creation of new products and services -- and new jobs. Federal Communications commissioners should abandon the idea of net neutrality -- and the rest of their massive intervention -- and leave the Internet alone.

 

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