“’Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet.” With this single phrase, Senator Ted Cruz has sparked one of the most heated debates about the future of the Internet since the Federal Communications Commission first released its Open Internet Order in 2010.
Proponents of the cleverly-named proposal known as “Net Neutrality” argue government regulation is needed in order to keep the Internet open and free, by preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from establishing “Internet fast lanes” at premium costs. Opponents, including Cruz and many Internet experts, argue that opening the door to government regulation of ISPs in this way will stifle innovation, increase costs, and ultimately hurt consumers.
With some of the worst consumer satisfaction ratings nationwide, cable companies and ISPs seems to have gone out of their way to reinforce public perception that they care little about customer satisfaction and quality of service. This helps make Net Neutrality an easy sell to the public; advocates prey upon the fears and emotions of consumers — greedy ISP providers throttling internet access for more profit — then salves those fears with the siren song of government regulation.
However, this should not overshadow what we know for certain about government promises of protection; and it must not blind us to what Net Neutrality truly is: a 21st Century Trojan Horse filled with federal bureaucrats itching to control the single most powerful tool of the modern age — a free and unfettered Internet.
Net Neutrality is not some sort of trophy representing triumph over greedy cable and Internet companies. Rather, it is a sham promise by Obama to get inside the city gates. The real purpose is to mask what follows; just as the citizens of Troy discovered shortly after opening their city to what they mistakenly saw as a gift.
This is not the first time such a tactic has been used to massively expand the power of the federal government under the guise of protecting the public. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the also cleverly-named USA PATRIOT Act was sold as a way to protect citizens from terrorism; several years later, the Dodd-Frank Act was sold as consumer protection against Wall Street fraud; and, in the granddaddy of all federal panaceas, ObamaCare was sold as a plan to fix America’s healthcare system.
Not surprisingly, in none of these instances of federal “reform” did the promised manna fall from the heavens; and in every case, the supposedly “narrowly tailored” powers were expanded dramatically to sustain the government’s inevitable and insatiable appetite for control.
A similar fate is on the horizon for the Internet if Obama gets his way to implement “Net Neutrality.”
Departing from a long-standing tradition of “light-touch” regulation that has given ISPs the latitude to innovate and expand, Obama now wants the FCC to reclassify the Internet to bring it under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This regulatory regimen would strap ISPs with common-carrier regulations first drafted eight decades ago, and which are woefully inapplicable to either the technology or the markets of this early 21st Century.
It may seem counterintuitive to discuss deregulating an industry dominated by a small number of ISPs; but less regulation, not more of it, is the only way to bring about long-term changes in the industry without seriously the jeopardizing innovation and improvement that has made the Internet a super highway for economic and political freedom.
This phenomenon can be seen elsewhere. For decades, taxi cartels enjoyed an unchallenged monopoly on transportation services because they worked hand-in-hand with government regulators to keep out competition. It was only with the arrival of Uber and similar ride-sharing services that the paradigm finally began to shift in favor of the free market and the consumer.
Cable companies like Cox, Comcast, and others enjoy similar monopolies in local markets. However, as Erik Telford, senior vice president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, notes, this is not the work of greedy capitalists, but of regulatory corruption. “Cable companies may hold local monopolies,”writes Telford, “but local governments and public utility commissions dictate this lack of competition through sweetheart deals designed to line the pockets of the city at the consumer’s expense.”
Giving more regulatory control to the government in the form of Net Neutrality will do nothing to address this problem. Rather, such a move will simply reinforce the cycle of “regulatory capture” that greases the skids for ever-increasing government control that limits options for all of us.
That Obama is attempting to effect such a far-reaching plan on his own, without the concurrence of Congress, should surprise no one; this President’s unshakeable arrogance makes such a course his default position. But the Republican House can stop him even before the new and also GOP-led Senate is sworn in next January. They can include an appropriations rider in the almost-certain omnibus reconciliation bill that prohibits any monies from being spent to implement Obama’s Net Neutrality. If that fails, they must do so as a first order of business in the new Congress. If they do not, the future of Internet freedom will become markedly less so.