Net Neutrality Is Unnecessary

In our opinion: Net neutrality isn’t necessary — innovation is spurred by less regulation, not a tighter government grip

As far as semantics go, “net neutrality” sounds like such a friendly, fair term. It’s no wonder so many have flocked to its defense, believing it means a level playing field for all.

Call it what it is — regulation of the Internet by Republicans, Democrats, high-priced lobbyists and unelected bureaucrats who run the FCC — and it might not get such support.

By a narrow 3-2 vote, the FCC recently decided to regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) the same as it does public utilities. This, the chairman of the FCC said, will ensure a “fast, fair and open” Internet.

As always in such matters, it pays to step back and try to find the problem being solved. In this case, it’s hard to argue the Internet has not hitherto been fast, fair or open. Regulators want to prevent service providers from blocking connections to certain sites or content, but there is no evidence such a thing was occurring.

There also is no compelling reason such a thing shouldn’t occur if providers see a competitive advantage in it.

If, for example, a provider wanted to exclude legal adult-themed websites and use this as a way to market itself to a segment of customers, should it not be able to do so? Similarly, if it wanted to charge customers a bit more to obtain premium content at faster speeds, why would this be offensive? Isn’t that a generally accepted practice in a variety of other commercial and government endeavors, from ticket services that allow you to skip long lines to toll lanes on freeways?

The oft-stated problem that seems to drive discontent among Internet users is a perceived lack of competition. At high speeds, this is true. As a recent report published by the Heritage Foundation found, 75 percent of American households lack competitive choices when it comes to connection speeds of 25 mbps or higher. But at lower speeds, competition flourishes. Fully 75 percent of households do have a choice at the speed of 5 mbps.

Significantly, however, nothing about the FCC’s net neutrality rules increases competition or reduces the cost of a household’s Internet service. Startups would be unable to differentiate themselves by promoting one type of service over another.

Instead, there is good reason to believe the new rules will favor the largest Internet companies. Netflix, for instance, uses a large share of bandwidth for its streaming video. Rather than letting providers charge Netflix subscribers extra for a faster stream, that cost likely will be spread to all customers in the form of higher rates.

As usual, government cannot attempt to impose neutrality into a marketplace without, in fact, creating winners and losers.

It is significant that the European Union is now considering legislation to roll back Europe’s net neutrality, allowing providers to vary speeds. As the United States learned more than 30 years ago with telephone service, real innovation is spurred by deregulation, not a tighter government grip.

The Internet has been a source of incredible, life-changing innovation for decades. Net neutrality solves problems that don’t exist. Our hope is that Congress or the courts (which have twice previously reversed attempts to regulate the Internet) will intervene to re-throne the marketplace in cyberspace.

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