Surfing the net

Because the Internet has become more and more central to American life, and because more and more Internet businesses have profited from their own investment and innovation, the federal government has tried mightily to squeeze its fingers into the largely unregulated domain of cyberspace.

On Tuesday, a federal appellate court turned back Washington’s latest attempt to control Web-based commerce when it ruled against the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to impose “net neutrality” on broadband providers.

The decision throws into doubt whether the FCC has the authority to regulate high-speed Internet access and subsidize its expansion into areas that won’t be profitable for private businesses.

Net neutrality would compel all broadband providers to treat every customer’s data demands equally, and would prohibit companies from giving some Web traffic priority in exchange for higher access charges. The regulations also would prevent providers from blocking or degrading services and sites that clog capacity and slow network speeds for all customers.

In its simplest terms, net neutrality would give the FCC the authority to tell communications companies how to operate the multibillion-dollar infrastructure built with private capital. The policies would turn Internet providers into public utilities and high-speed Internet access into a “right” (a la health care), in defiance of a 2005 Supreme Court decision upholding the deregulation of broadband.

Imagine the U.S. Postal Service being ordered to stop charging premiums for overnight delivery under the premise that every piece of mail must be treated equally, when regular, first-class mail delivery isn’t affected by express mail in the first place.

It’s encouraging that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recognized the federal government’s powers are limited, and that bureaucracies can’t put handcuffs on private industry because of some unelected regulator’s idea of fairness.

The FCC should scrap its misguided mission of net neutrality at once.

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