Column: Pai right to halt net neutrality

John Reilly

The fervor over “net neutrality” is back, and the resistance’s familiar blend of righteous indignation and paranoid hysteria now threatens Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and his family, as stalkers at his home accuse him of “murdering democracy.”

The sad irony is that in the name of protecting internet freedom, supporters of net neutrality demand exactly the policy that would endanger it the most: government control of internet service providers (ISPs.)

It’s almost a miracle that the internet has remained as free and unfettered of government meddling as it has in our country, and because of that, the internet is the wonderful thing we know today: a limitless source of information, entertainment and commerce that gets faster every year.

Despite that, activists have demanded “net neutrality” laws since at least 2006. Congress never met their demands, but in 2015 the Democrat-controlled FCC, acting without congressional authority, unilaterally imposed net neutrality rules by decree. This is what Pai wants to reverse.

To be clear: the claim that ISPs are preparing to censor the internet and discriminate against their customers is ridiculous, and disproven by the entire history of the internet through 2015.

ISPs have nothing to gain and customers to lose by censoring content, which is why they have never done so. ISPs are not monopolies, and the market gets more competitive every year. We can receive internet service from phone lines, cable lines, cellular networks, satellite dishes, and now fiber optic lines.

All of these companies compete to sell internet service, and they can’t collude to censor content for the same reason airlines can’t collude to charge $1,000 for every plane ticket. We already have laws against anti-competition agreements.

The other argument for net neutrality is that ISPs might enter into bandwidth agreements with content providers, where for example YouTube could pay Comcast for guaranteed transfer speeds. Even in this far-fetched scenario, there’s no harm, since this would lower the ISPs cost to consumers.

The notion that ISPs are threatening to take away the internet is a bogeyman creating public outcry for government control of ISPs, and there is the real danger.

Other countries don’t enjoy the free internet that Americans have, and in every case the government is the source of censorship. Without the protection of our First and Fourth Amendments, governments monitor and prosecute citizens for expressing illegal opinions, ban websites, and force service providers to assist them in doing so. And it’s not just North Korea; the internet is massively regulated in Britain.

If the government intended to take over the internet in America, network neutrality rules would be the first step to opening that legal doorway. Thankfully, Congress has never provided it the authority to do so.

Everyone agrees that the internet should remain as free and open as it can be, but those clamoring for its regulation need to study history and learn to cherish the lack of government control that has kept the internet free to this day.

Pai’s courageous effort to rescind the 2015 network neutrality rule would turn around a dangerous trend started two years ago. He should be praised, not vilified, for standing up for freedom and the free exchange of ideas on the Internet we have always enjoyed.

Rep. John Reilly, R-Oakland, represents Michigan’s 46th House district.