One might have titled this story "Beware of government bearing gifts." We should be exceedingly wary whenever law makers begin dabbling with something that's been working exceedingly well for decades. Today that thing is the Internet, perhaps the least-regulated industry in the U.S. today.
This week the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is considering a set of new (and as yet unpublished) rules that would impose regulations on how broadband service providers are allowed to maintain their networks. Shrouded in the innocuous veil of "Network Neutrality," the potential restrictions are anything but neutral, and could tie the hands of service providers and send investors running for the exits. And with investors go innovations and expansion.
You probably disagree. I did too, at first. Neutrality and openness are good things. Everyone should be allowed to operate on an even playing field. On the surface, the issue seems fair to all parties. But once you really think about what's being proposed--that cable and phone companies would not be free to manage their networks the way they wish--what's to keep them in the game? After all, they're the ones who took the risks of investing in and maintaining the infrastructure. Shouldn't they be free to regulate their own systems, provided they're not giving unfair advantage to one player over another?
It took a bit of digging before I found enough information in favor of leaving things alone before I could finally wrap my head around this. Most of what's out there is in favor of legislating "neutrality." But what does that really mean?
One analogy I came across that the absence of such legislation would be like phone companies telling you who you're allowed to call. That is incorrect. Carriers don't want to forbid anyone from accessing anything. Their aim is to keep control over how you access things on their networks, just as telcos currently control how your phone calls are routed over their copper. Without such management, phone calls would be very different today and bandwidth hogs could crowd out little guys like you and me with impunity. Would that be fair?
There's no need to rush this, and nearly a dozen recent letters to the FCC--from a bipartisan mix of state governors, 18 Republican Senators and representatives from the House minority leadership. -- have stressed this. One such letter, by Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, informed FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that the number of broadband subscribers in his state has grown by more than 1,000 percent since broadband regulations were eliminated in 2002, and that Internet service prices have declined by 50 percent, according to a report today in TulsaWorld.com.
The latest letter, which arrived Friday, was signed by "18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, 31 Blue Dog Democrats and 10 members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC," according to V in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. The letter was signed by 72 members of Congress in all, including Tim Bishop of NY's 1st congressional district (for my neighbors in Eastern Long Island).
The letter, in part, urges lawmakers "to avoid tentative conclusions which favor government regulation," and cites concerns of reaching "conclusions based on slogans rather than substance and of policies that restrict and inhibit the very innovation and growth that we all seek to achieve." Until there's a problem, government should laissez faire.