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November 27 2017

FCC’s Thanksgiving Blessing was to End Internet Neutrality Regulations

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

The debates at your Thanksgiving table were likely over sweet potato versus pumpkin pie, overbearing basketball dads, and --maybe-- politics.

Your friends and family likely didn’t debate the end of internet regulations set in place by the Obama Administration, which most of the public has long forgotten were put in place. But here's the news that some might have missed in the lead up to the holiday: The current Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) released plans to end net neutrality just before Thanksgiving, and for that we are thankful.

However, a last-minute flurry of articles and social media posts claimed this would be the nail in the coffin of a free and open internet. They are being overly dramatic and ignoring some basic truths about how the internet operated before these regulations.

First, a little backstory: The FCC under the Obama Administration decided to declare that broadband was a utility and could therefore regulate how broadband service providers delivered that access to customers and consumers. The goal supporters say was to prevent internet providers from slowing access to certain sites while speeding access to their content or other higher-paying sites, which they claimed would make for a less competitive environment.

The big flaw with net neutrality was that it was a solution in search of a problem. Since its creation, the internet blossomed and developed without much government regulation or intervention to ensure a competitive environment. There was a robust, competitive market before these regulations were put in place. 

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained this last week:

We have proof that markets work: For almost two decades, the U.S. had a free and open internet without these heavy-handed rules. There was no market failure before 2015. Americans weren’t living in a digital dystopia before the FCC seized power. To the contrary, millions enjoyed an online economy that was the envy of the world. They experienced the most powerful platform ever seen for permission-less innovation and expression…

If there were cases of anti-competitive practices, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped in. It’s not overkill to call the FCC’s action to step in and regulate internet access an unnecessary and inappropriate grab of power and authority.

There have been unintended consequences to these regulations. The rate of innovation has slowed and investment in broadband – especially in rural and poor areas – has fallen.

Others in the tech industry – even if they like the idea of net neutrality as a precaution to bad behavior – agree that the tech industry worked just fine without the regulations. Chief technology correspondent for Axios explained this to NPR:

… I think the chairman is right that, you know, in the past, the Internet did not suffer before these rules. I think it's tough to make the case that before net neutrality rules were put in place - that the Internet suffered. Obviously, it flourished. I think the question is, when you have it in the control of a few carriers, will things continue to be good just because? And I think that's a really tough question to answer. So I think a lot of people are like, let's not take away these rules.

Uncertainty about how the market will work without net neutrality rules is not enough of a defense to keep these regulations in place.

Net-neutrality supporters have been led to worry that internet providers will unleash their fury and block access to their favorite streaming, social media, and porn websites. But, if they didn’t do it before, why would they do it now and risk the federal government stepping in?

This back-and-forth of one administration introducing regulations and the next undoing them is a good reason for Congress to decide once and for all who should regulate the internet and how.

So what will happen once net neutrality disappears, Tyler Cowan has a good answer in Bloomberg:

Eliminating net neutrality is, in the best and worst case scenarios, either necessary to keep the internet up and running, or will lead to a dystopian future where a few major corporations control our thoughts. The more prosaic reality, however, is that a world without net neutrality will work just fine.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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