Why the Government Should Never be in Control of the Internet

A Google server farm. (Google/Connie Zhou via Associated Press)
A Google server farm. (Google/Connie Zhou via Associated Press)

by Robert M. McDowell

Tomorrow is the deadline for the public to comment on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) attempt to regulate the Internet under the seemingly innocuous moniker of “net neutrality.” The architect of this movement, and the man who coined the term “net neutrality,” is Columbia law professor Tim Wu. Unfortunately, he has proved to be immensely influential among regulators.

Net neutrality rules have been sold for a decade as a way to keep the Internet “open and free” by keeping Internet service providers (ISPs), such as phone and cable companies, from blocking or degrading Web sites. Its advocates have argued that ISPs have an economic incentive to act anti-competitively toward consumers and competitors. In a common hypothetical they cite, ISPs would slow — or buffer — traffic for Netflix unless it unfairly pays for more access points, or “off ramps,” and better quality of service.

In truth, however, market failures like these have never happened, and nothing is broken that needs fixing. If consumers were being harmed by ISPs, ample antitrust, competition and consumer protection laws already exist to fix the problem. And major broadband providers have pledged, in their terms of service, to keep the Net open and freedom-enhancing. Why?  Because it is good business to do so.

Additionally, Netflix produces upwards of 34 percent of the Net’s traffic at peak times. It can clog any pipe it touches. That torrent of traffic imposes delivery costs that Netflix would prefer to pass on to others. But the market is sorting out these growing pains as the open Net grows, just as it has successfully from the beginning. (My views on this subject long predate my affiliation with the Hudson Institute, but in the interests of full disclosure: Hudson receives financial support from media, technology and telecom companies, as well as foundations, including those on both sides of the net neutrality debate.)

The Net has been open since it was privatized by the Clinton administration. It proliferated globally as it migrated farther away from government control — bringing freedom and prosperity to billions. It grew from a mere 88,000 users in the late 1980s, to more than 3 billion today. Cisco estimates that the exploding “Internet of Everything” (that is, machines talking to one another online, such as your car and your tablet) will generate more than $14 trillion in global economic growth by 2022. In short, the Internet is the greatest deregulatory success story of all time — a simple fact that vexes those seeking new and unnecessary rules.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post

Robert M. McDowell served as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission from 2006-2013 and is currently a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Economics of the Internet.

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