You’d be forgiven for thinking Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai was trying to eliminate the internet altogether with the outrage over his recent proposal to roll back Obama-era net neutrality regulations.
But Pai’s move is the right one, and a hopeful sign the internet will continue to operate under a light touch from the government for the foreseeable future.
Net neutrality roughly means that the government — under a warped interpretation of a regulatory framework from the 1930s, “Title II,” originally designed to govern phone companies — should mandate internet service providers (ISPs) treat all content the same, regardless of how much bandwidth certain content requires.
But internet traffic is already treated equally in the vast majority of cases. Network management forces ISPs to prioritize content here and there, but this is not a widely abused policy. And trying to pre-empt companies from the temptation to create fast and slow internet lanes is a bad reason to overhaul the regulatory framework that has governed the internet since its inception.
Net neutrality supporters argue that without the regulations internet companies will be able to throttle websites at their discretion and charge more for certain content. Streaming videos from sites like Netflix and YouTube, for example, use much more bandwidth than text only.
But that’s not happening, and at the end of day it’s about who is going to charge the customer. Is Netflix going to charge you more to get content up faster or will it be Comcast charging more to ensure your Netflix service is uninterrupted?
The current regulatory structure is best suited to allow market forces, not the government, to make that decision. The FCC will vote on the decision on Dec. 14.
Pai has reiterated that the Federal Trade Commission will be able to enforce transparency from ISPs. And the Justice Department will retain the control it has over antitrust issues to ensure an ISP can’t shut down services from other companies that compete with its own.
With the internet now controlling such large swaths of the functions of government, business and education, not to mention consumer shopping, consumers deserve to be able to find customized packages that best meet their needs.
The FCC will also be able to punish companies that try to deceive consumers on the issue of paid prioritization, the major concern for most consumers.
Broadband network investment has already dropped 5.6 percent in the two years since the FCC’s decision to implement net neutrality. Stopping the rule will help turn that around.
The internet has been the greatest engine for human communication and information, but it’s been able to flourish and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans because the government has largely kept its hands off. That’s how it should remain.